Swiss vote to keep nuclear power and driving on Sundays

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The Independent Online

On a day in which they decided nine different issues by popular vote, the Swiss opted yesterday to retain nuclear energy, which provides 40 per cent of the nation's power. Anti-nuclear campaigners, who had gathered the 100,000 signatures needed to make the issue a "people's initiative", blamed the influence of the nuclear industry lobby in swinging the vote.

On a day in which they decided nine different issues by popular vote, the Swiss opted yesterday to retain nuclear energy, which provides 40 per cent of the nation's power. Anti-nuclear campaigners, who had gathered the 100,000 signatures needed to make the issue a "people's initiative", blamed the influence of the nuclear industry lobby in swinging the vote.

The electorate also concurred with the government's plan to reform the army and the civil defence force. And, following the government's advice, they rejected all seven issues put to voters as people's initiatives.

In Switzerland a referendum can be brought when 50,000 people sign up to oppose a bill that has already been passed into law, while a people's initiative can be put on any issue if 100,000 signatures are amassed. A recent people's initiative that came close to succeeding was a ban on third-world immigration.

Switzerland, which boasts the world's most thoroughgoing system of direct democracy, votes on referendums and people's initiatives about four times a year, normally on only one or two issues. But yesterday they voted on universal access for the disabled, protection for teachers, tenants' rights, health insurance funding, apprenticeship places, and car-free Sundays, as well as nuclear power, the army and civil defence.

The last time Swiss voters had so much on their minds was in 1866, 137 years ago. One reason for the issue jam is that the government wants to clear the decks before the general election on 19 October.

The insouciant manner in which Switzerland gives its people the final say on matters weighty and not-so-weighty throws into relief the British Government's refusal to allow a referendum on the new EU convention, as on many previous European issues in the past. But even some Swiss experts believe that this time they may have overdone it. "Voting on nine issues in one day could turn out to be a political catastrophe," said Claude Longchamp, a Swiss political scientist. "It would be difficult for the Swiss people and the media to argue and inform objectively."

Some politicians agreed. "It could be difficult for the political parties to convince the broader public of their attitude towards the different issues," said Reto Nause, secretary-general of the centre-right Christian Democrats. A spokesman for the centre-left Social Democrats said: "[It's] unreasonable to ask the public and the parties to deal with so many different issues at one time."

But Guido Schommer of the centre-right Radical Party disagreed. "The voters are not as stupid as many think they are," he said. "The proposals are easy to understand."

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