Public services initiative fails by surprisingly large margin

Swiss Post, including its yellow postal buses, is one of the biggest public service companies Keystone

An initiative aimed at boosting public services, and limiting the salaries of top executives at state-owned companies, has been rejected by a clear majority of voters and all cantons.

This content was published on June 5, 2016 - 16:30
Matthew Allen and Urs Geiser

Opinion polls before the vote had suggested a tight result. It would have needed both an outright majority of votes nationally and a majority of cantons to support it in order to succeed.

Final results show the initiative was rejected by more than two out of three voters.

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Transport Minister Doris Leuthard said the vote was a thumbs up  from the Swiss people for the public services which "function well". However, she recognised that there are some concerns that need addressing.

"People have high expectations," Leuthard added. "We will take this seriously. We want to make sure that in future the Swiss people receive the best public services in the world."

Despite losing the vote, Peter Salvisberg of the initiative’s organising committee said it had succeeded in contributing to an important public debate despite a “propaganda” campaign being waged against it. “For too long politicians have looked the other way,” he said.

Another of the initiative's promoters, Matteo Cheda, said he would consider a fresh initiative to curb excessive roaming charges from Swisscom.

Claude Longchamp, director of the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute, believes the debate on public services will not go away despite the initiative being rejected. He told Swiss public television, SRF, that calls for more competition and better prices would continue.

The Swiss Business Federation, economiesuisse, celebrated the result, saying the success of Switzerland's public services are "above all the result of progressive liberalisation over the last 20 years".

The initiative had been launched by four consumer magazines following complaints about perceived dropping standards notably by the Federal Railways, the Post Office and the Swisscom telecom provider.

The companies, with about 117,000 employees, have come under pressure in a partly liberalised market over the years.

The initiative wanted to ban basic service providers from seeking to make a profit and effectively calls for an end to cross-subsidies.

It also aimed at ensuring that top salaries and fees of their senior managers do not exceed those of employees of the federal administration, including government ministers.

Opponents of the initiative, which included both houses of parliament, had argued that the stated aim of the initiative was counterproductive as it could have jeopardised the future of these companies.

Transport Minister Doris Leuthard had warned that limiting the entrepreneurial freedom of public sector firms could have led to lower revenue and further weaken services across the country.

It had also faced broad opposition by all major political parties, the government as well as the business community and the trade unions.

Result box vote June 5

Basic income initiative:

23.1% yes         76.9.% no

Asylum reform:

66.8% yes         33.2% no

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis:

62.4% yes         37.6% no

Public service companies:

32.4% yes         67.6.% no

Road traffic funding:

29.2% yes         70.8% no

Turnout: 46.4%

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