Switzerland expresses its support for the maintenance of Covid measures, despite protests
Swiss voters strongly backed the law backing the country’s Covid approval in a referendum on Sunday, following a tense campaign marked by unprecedented levels of hostility.
The law provides the legal basis for the so-called Covid certificate to indicate that a person has been vaccinated or has recovered from the disease.
Opponents argued that the certificate, which has been required since September for access to restaurants and other indoor spaces and activities, is creating an “apartheid” system.
The final results showed that 62 percent supported the law in a contest that saw an increase in voters filling their ballots.
The 65 percent turnout was the fourth highest since the vote was granted to women in 1971, in a country where the average turnout in the referendum is 46 percent.
The majority voted against the law in only two of the 26 Swiss cantons, with the highest levels of support recorded in the city of Basel and Zurich.
The referendum came as the discovery of the worrying new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, shook countries and markets around the world.
The vote also came with the number of new Covid cases in Switzerland more than seven times higher than in mid-October.
Insults and death threats
Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, voting is normally held four times a year on a variety of issues. Citizens can propose new initiatives or trigger referenda on government policy by gathering enough signatures, as happened with the Covid certificate law.
Like much of Europe, Switzerland has seen growing anger over restrictions aimed at curbing the pandemic and pressure to get vaccinated.
But in a country where regular voting normally takes place in a climate of civility and measured debate, the mounting tensions around the vote on the Covid law came as a shock.
Police increased security around several politicians who have faced an avalanche of insults and even death threats, including Health Minister Alain Berset.
The right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the largest in the wealthy Alpine nation, was the only party that opposed the Covid law and the freedom it gives the government to act.
“The eyes of the whole world are on Switzerland. We are the only ones in the world who have the right to speak about the management of the crisis, about the future of our freedoms,” legislator Senior Vice President Jean- Luc Addor. RTS.
He said the response to the pandemic was dividing society based on vaccination status.
“Here we are talking about 40 percent of the population who do not agree with official policy … who no longer trust the authorities,” Addor said.
The campaign saw repeated protests, often led by so-called “Freiheitstrychler”, or “liberty stamps,” men dressed in white shirts embroidered with edelweiss flowers and with two large cowbells suspended from a yoke resting on their shoulders.
Some of the demonstrations led to violent clashes with the police, who used rubber bullets and tear gas to slow down the crowd.
Police surrounded the seat of government and parliament in Bern on Sunday in anticipation of the protests, although few people had gathered in the square by sunset.
Claude Longchamp, one of Switzerland’s leading political scientists, said it was the first time that the Federal Palace had been closed on election day.
Michelle Cailler, a spokeswoman for the Friends of the Constitution group that opposed the law, said that granting those powers to the government was “extremely dangerous for democracy.”
“What is very shameful is that this law violates a series of constitutional rights, and in particular article 10 on personal freedom with this Covid certificate, which establishes a compulsory covert vaccination,” he told AFP after the vote.
“So it is extremely shocking for a country like Switzerland.”
In the Sunday papers, Swiss President Guy Parmelin urged more people to get vaccinated.
About 65 percent of the Swiss population is fully immunized.
A Link Institute poll of 1,300 people, for the SonntagsBlick newspaper, found that 53 percent were in favor of mandatory vaccination.