Foreigners exercise voting rights

Nearly 80,000 foreign residents in canton Vaud have the right to vote Keystone

Foreign residents do not vote much differently than the Swiss, according to the results from municipal elections in two cantons.

This content was published on March 13, 2006 - 21:50

Turnout was low among foreigners in cantons Fribourg and Vaud, where they were allowed to vote in municipal elections for the first time.

Foreign participation in such elections was unprecedented. "We have no studies or past experiences to look at," said political analyst, René Knüsel, of Lausanne University.

Knüsel said the only conclusion to be drawn from the elections was that foreigners who exercised their right to go to the polls favoured left-wing politicians more than Swiss voters did.

He said they might have helped the gains made by the Social Democrats and Greens in some of the towns in canton Vaud, including the capital, Lausanne, and the council in the city of Fribourg.

But Knüsel said most foreigners "conformed" and filled out their ballots like the Swiss. "Foreign residents are so well integrated that they not only feel Swiss but vote like them too."


Among the conditions in canton Vaud, voting rights are only granted to non-Swiss with year round work permits, or those with full-time residency papers and who have lived in the country for the past ten years and at least three years in the canton.

The authorities in Fribourg demand of its voters residency permits and proof that they have lived in the canton for more than five years.

The average turnout in the Fribourg elections was 31 per cent, but only 15 per cent for eligible foreign residents, and provisional results show that slightly more foreigners voted – between 20 and 25 per cent – in Vaud's nearly 400 communities.

Knüsel said he was surprised that so many foreigners chose to vote, drawing a parallel with young adults and women when they first won the right to vote.

In the case of women, he said, it took many years before as women caught up with men as far as voting numbers was concerned.

He said foreigners too need time to become more conscious of their civic duties.

Knüsel also found foreign residents tended to give their vote to people they recognise, crossing out unfamiliar, or exotic names.

One exception was the election in the Fribourg town, Villars-sur-Glâne, where Allan Alves da Costa was elected to the left-of-centre executive, on a Uruguayan passport.


Key facts

The foreign population of canton Fribourg is 16%.
On March 5, 31% of Fribourg's Swiss population went to the polls, and 16% of its eligible foreign residents.
Foreigners account for 27% of Vaud's population.
Turnout for elections on March 12 is not yet known, but it is estimated that at least 20% of the canton's foreign residents voted.

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In brief

Foreign residents have certain civic rights in nine of Switzerland's 26 cantons.

They have enjoyed voting rights but not to stand for office in the city of Neuchâtel since 1850, and at the cantonal level since 2000.

Foreigners in Jura can vote and stand for office in municipal elections and to vote at the cantonal level since the creation of the canton in 1978.

In Geneva, foreign residents of the canton have voting rights at the local council level since last year but not to stand for office.

Between 1995 and 2005, Appenzell Outer Rhodes, Graubünden, Basel City and Solothurn have left it up to each community to decide whether to give foreign residents voting rights.

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