The Swiss have voted to tighten regulations on the deportation of criminal foreigners.
Projections issued by the gfs.bern polling institute showed 53 per cent voting in favour of a rightwing initiative. The initiative also appeared to have won the backing of a majority of cantons.
Turnout was higher than usual - at 52 per cent - a sign of how controversial were the issues being voted on.
In a complex nationwide vote on Sunday, the electorate were faced with a choice between a hardline option and a compromise version; or approving or rejecting both proposals.
The rightwing People's Party initiative called for the automatic expulsion of convicted non-Swiss offenders whereas an alternative option by parliament opted for a case-by-case examination and additional integration measures.
Parliament's counter-proposal was rejected by 53 per cent of voters, the projections showed.
The initiative called for the automatic deportation of foreign criminals whose crimes fall within a list of around ten offences, including cheating social security benefits. The catalogue of offences is to be completed by parliament. But the proposal denies judges any judicial discretion over deportation.
Controversial black sheep posters proved to be a very successful campaign instrument three years ago when the rightwing party collected more 210,000 signatures for the vote and paved the way for its best result in parliamentary elections.
The counter-proposal, promoted by centre-right parties and the government, sought to introduce the deportation of foreign criminals serving at least two years in prison.
The authorities argued in favour of retaining a case-by-case examination to ensure that Swiss legislation was in line with constitutional rights and international treaties. They also proposed introducing measures to boost the integration of foreigners.
The counter-proposal was said to take into account the personal situation of the offender, considering for instance whether they were a second or third generation immigrant without Swiss nationality.
Under current law about 750 foreigners are expelled from Switzerland every year. However, there are regional differences and courts are free to order deportation as an additional punishment.
In a separate vote, the electorate rejected a proposal by the centre-left and trade unions to set a minimum tax rate for wealthy citizens across the country.
Projections showed 58 per cent voting against the initiative. To be carried it needed to win a majority of voters and cantons.
Under the proposal, the minimum rate for annual income exceeding SFr250,000 ($249,402) would have been set at 22 per cent and 0.5 per cent for wealth of at least SFr2 million.
The initiative was aimed at putting an end to what the left said were abuses of the tax autonomy the 26 cantons enjoy under the Swiss federalist system.
Opposition came from an alliance of political parties on the right and the centre as well as the government, most cantons and particularly the business community.
2009 Prison sentence statistics (Federal Statistics Office)
Proportion of foreigners: 70.2%
Criminal foreigners awaiting deportation (2009): 411
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