Italian expats gear up for home elections
For the first time, Switzerland's Italian expatriates will be able to vote in Italy's upcoming – and hotly contested – elections without having to travel home.
Italians living abroad have been granted the right to vote for their own representatives as well as to put themselves forward as candidates for a seat in parliament.
A 2001 law enables the more than 3.5 million Italian immigrants around the world to cast a postal ballot for their own candidates in the elections, which are taking place on April 9-10. They may also, as before, travel back to Italy to vote.
It comes after almost a century's wait – the Italian parliament first considered giving "distance voting" rights to expatriates in 1908.
Around 375,000 Italians living in Switzerland have voting rights, among them many with dual nationality.
Along with the vote comes the right to stand for election. Italians abroad have been allocated 12 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (out of 630) and six in the Senate (out of 315).
The expats have been divided into four constituencies. Switzerland is part of the Europe constituency, which, with almost two million Italians, is the largest. It has been allotted two Senators and six Deputies.
This is an international first as no other country allows its residents abroad seats in both parliamentary chambers.
In Switzerland, a change of the constitution would be necessary on the federal level, although Swiss living abroad can cast postal votes.
Italians living in Switzerland are well represented among the European candidates. In all, 25 of the 144 people up for election to the Chamber of Deputies and 11 of the 34 candidates for the Senate live in the country.
"This confirms that Italians in Switzerland are paying more and more attention to their own country," said Pier Benedetto Francese, Italy's ambassador to Switzerland.
Francese expected voter participation to be quite high, at around 60 per cent.
In all, 11 parties are vying for seats in the Chamber, among them Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia party and the centre left l'Unione party of his challenger, Romano Prodi.
Ten parties are contesting seats in the Senate.
Among those fighting the Swiss corner are Franco Narducci for l'Unione, who emigrated to Switzerland in 1970 and is vice-president of the Syna union, and singer and Swiss resident Rita Pavone for a smaller party, the Liste Tremaglia.
Another political grouping, the Swiss in the World party, is entirely made up of Swiss residents.
Although the economy and jobs are dominating the election run-up, some of the topics, such as access to embassy services, also have resonance in Switzerland.
However according to Giovanni Longu, head of the language service at the Federal Statistics Office and past head of the Italo-Swiss Centre for professional training, many important topics concerning expats are being left by the wayside.
"[These include] the current difficult relations between the institutions (embassies, committee of Italians abroad) and the community, the growing gap between the generations and the lack of a serious cultural and linguistic policy to reinforce the sense of belonging for the second and third generations," he said.
Longu added that the electoral programmes did not seem to take into account the fact that the situation now is very different from that of 30 years ago, when Italian immigration was at its height.
"The community no longer needs the policy of dependency and paternalism carried out by the authorities because it is now more integrated and more interested in the local situation than the Italian one," said Longu.
3.5 million Italians living abroad are eligible to vote.
505,104 Italians live in Switzerland including those with dual nationality, the largest foreign community.
374,680 have voting rights.
There are two million Italians across Europe.
South America: 885,673.
Central and North America: 403,597.
Africa, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica: 192,390.
In the Italian elections of April 9-10 Italian expats have been allocated, for the first time, seats in parliament: 12 Deputies and 6 Senators.
In the Europe constituency, which includes Switzerland, 114 people have put themselves forward as candidates for the Chamber of Deputies and 34 for the Senate. 36 candidates live in Switzerland.
Italians in Switzerland receive voting papers from the embassy or consulate. They have until April 6 to send back their ballots. The embassy or consulate then sends them on to Rome.
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