Foreigners in Geneva get limited voting rights

Coming soon to a Geneva polling station: a non-Swiss national casting his vote Keystone Archive

Foreigners in Geneva who have lived in Switzerland for more than eight years are to be allowed to vote in local elections but will not be able to stand for political office.

This content was published on April 24, 2005

Sunday's vote means that Geneva joins the ranks of cantons Neuchâtel, Jura, Fribourg, Vaud and Appenzell Outer Rhodes in granting non-Swiss residents political rights.

Voters in canton Geneva were asked to decide on an initiative entitled "I live here, I vote here".

It was approved by 52.3 per cent of the electorate.

Around 80,000 non-Swiss residents in Geneva are set to benefit from the new rule.

However, 52.8 per cent of voters turned down a proposal to allow foreigners living in the canton to stand for political office.

Geneva has the highest percentage of foreigners in Switzerland. Non-Swiss residents account for nearly 40 per cent of the canton's population.

Overall foreigners make up just over 20 per cent of the Swiss population.

Leagues ahead

Political rights for foreigners vary from canton to canton, with the majority not according any to its non-Swiss inhabitants.

Canton Neuchâtel is leagues ahead of the others - foreigners there who have lived in the country for more than five years have enjoyed the right to vote and be elected in local elections since 1849.

They were accorded voting rights at the cantonal level in 2000. Two years ago, the 22,000 foreigners living in the canton were permitted to vote in the Senate elections.

Since 1980 non-Swiss residents of Jura who have lived in the canton for more than six years have been able to vote and stand for election at local and cantonal level.

The first Swiss-German commune to accord the vote in local elections to foreigners was Wald in Appenzell Outer Rhodes, which did so in December 1999.

Canton Graubünden has left it up to its communes to decide whether to accord political rights to foreigners.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Voting on an initiative in Geneva, 52.3 per cent said foreigners living for at least eight years in Switzerland should be allowed to vote in local elections in the canton.

But 52.8 per cent voted against allowing the same group to stand for election.

Geneva has 80,000 non-Swiss residents.

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Key facts

Foreigners can do the following in:
Neuchâtel: vote in communal and cantonal elections and vote for senators.
Jura: vote in communal and cantonal elections and be elected in the former.
Vaud: vote in communal elections.
Appenzell Outer Rhodes and Graubünden: vote in communal elections if communes in favour.
Fribourg: stand in communal elections but not vote.

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