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Swiss deal government a triple blow

The brakes have been applied to government plans Keystone Archive

The Swiss have rejected proposals by government and parliament to ease traffic congestion, with all the cantons voting "no".

This content was published on January 29, 2004 - 14:20

They also turned down a plan to change the law on rents but voted in favour of a controversial proposal to lock up violent offenders for life - a triple blow for the political establishment.

The results show a clear rejection of government-backed proposals and recommendations.

Voter participation was about normal at 45 per cent.

All the cantons voted against the government's and parliament's plan to ease traffic congestion by spending up to SFr350 million annually to improve the country’s main roads and public transport.

The proposal included a second road tunnel through the Gotthard – Switzerland’s main north-south axis through the Alps.

The second tunnel - seen as costly and damaging to the environment by opponents - was one reason for the "no" outcome according to Alf Arnold, the head of the opponents' group.

He added that he was surprised that it had obtained such a clear majority.

But the parliamentary committee that lobbied for the initiative said in a statement that the result was a missed opportunity in Swiss transport policy, adding that the gap between private and public transport would be confirmed as a consequence.

Rents

All the cantons rejected government-backed proposals to link rents to inflation rather than mortgage rates.

The government argued that the change would put an end to landlords being able to raise rents every time there is an increase in mortgages, but failing to reduce rents when there is a drop in the rates.

Rudolf Strahm, the head of the country's main tenant's association, said the result was an acknowledgement for tenants because a "yes" vote would have made it easier for landlords to raise rents.

Opponents had also warned the change would lead to increased costs for a majority of the Swiss population – 70 per cent of whom live in rented accommodation.

Violent offenders

The third issue the Swiss were voting on was a people’s initiative to tighten the laws on the release into the community of violent offenders.

There was strong support for the proposal, dealing an unexpected blow to the government, which opposed the plan. Only two cantons, Basel City and Vaud rejected the initiative.

The proposal was launched by a group of victims and families of victims, and had the backing of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party.

"We are relieved and thankful that our initiative was approved," said Anita Chaaban, who helped organise the initiative after her 13-year-old goddaughter, Katja Vetsch, was raped and left for dead in 1996 by a repeat offender.

The initiative called for offenders found guilty of sexual and violent crimes to be locked away for life if they are deemed to be a risk to society after a one-off psychological assessment carried out at the time of conviction.

The government said its own revision of the criminal law – due to come into effect in 2006 – was sufficient to protect society from such offenders.

It was also concerned that the proposed changes would undermine Switzerland’s commitment to international human rights treaties.

People's initiatives tend to be rejected at the ballot box. The last people's initiative to be passed was two years ago when the Swiss voted to join the United Nations.

swissinfo

Key facts

The Swiss normally vote four times a year on national policy issues.
The last time the Swiss went to the polls was on October 19, 2003 to cast their ballots in parliamentary elections.
The road transport and violent offenders votes entail changes to the constitution and needed the double majority of cantons and the popular vote to pass.
The rent vote only needed a simple majority of votes cast.

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In brief

All the cantons rejected the government-backed transport proposal and a plan to change the law on rents.

Only two cantons rejected the people's initiative to lock up violent offenders for life.

Voting results: 62.8% against the transport proposal, 64% against the rent plan, 56.2% for the offenders' initiative.

45% of voters participated in the votes.

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