The Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, has appealed to Swiss nationals living abroad to make their vote count in October’s general election.
In his speech for National Day on August 1, Couchepin said votes from expatriate Swiss could make a significant difference in bringing about social reforms.
"I hope that even more of you will exercise your democratic rights his autumn. As a group, you carry much political weight,” said Couchepin.
He added that the 600,000 Swiss abroad represented the fourth largest group of voters, after Switzerland’s three biggest cantons – Zurich, Bern and Vaud.
And the group’s interest in Swiss politics is growing. In 1991 there were 14,000 Swiss abroad registered to vote; this had grown to 82,000 by 2002.
Couchepin called for the Swiss abroad to use their vote to support social reform, seen by the president as crucial to enable Switzerland to move forward.
“Switzerland is a country that is still doing well but it needs to face reforms, especially in the social field,” he said.
“I want to use this occasion to encourage you to participate in this discussion. You may not live in Switzerland, but the problems we face also concern you.”
Couchepin said it was essential to look ahead and face the challenges of a changing world. He warned against looking to the past for answers, calling it a “dead-end route”.
Among the social reforms on the table are measures to deal with Switzerland’s ageing population.
In a bid to alleviate the strain that greater spending on the state pension scheme is expected to place on the economy, Couchepin recently suggested raising the retirement age from 65 to 67.
His proposal has met with resistance from trade unions.
Couchepin also took time out in his National Day speech to praise Switzerland’s achievements over the past year.
In particular, he acknowledged the country’s greater international influence, following the decision to join the United Nations last September.
He also highlighted Switzerland’s ability to spring surprises, citing this year’s victory in the America’s Cup by Team Alinghi.
The Swiss sailing syndicate became the first European team to win the blue riband event in the competition’s 152-year history.
swissinfo, Joanne Shields
August 1 facts
The Swiss abroad number about 600,000.
Last year, 82,000 were registered to vote, compared with just 14,000 in 1991.
They make up the fourth largest group of voters, after the country's biggest cantons.
There are around 600,000 Swiss living abroad.
They represent the fourth largest group of voters after Switzerland’s three biggest cantons: Zurich, Bern and Vaud.
Around 83,000, or 18%, are registered to vote.
In 1991, only 14,000 Swiss abroad were on the electoral register.
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