New year, new referenda: Swiss voters once again marched up to the ballot box on February 8, kicking off the first of four referenda in 2004. Despite the recent changes in the country's political landscape, the citizenry reaffirmed that they have the last word.

AuteurAnderson, Robert (American businessman and engineer)
Fonction Politics

Indeed, the Swiss people decided to go against the will of the Parliament and Federal Council, us well us the political parties to some extent, on all three proposals that were presented by the government.

The issues on the table this time round were:

* The popular initiative dubbed "life-long custody for untreatable, extremely dangerous violent criminals and sex offenders"

* The government's counterproposal to the so-called 'Avanti initiative' and call for safer and more efficient autobahns;

* Change in the federal law governing rents.

But voters gave thumbs up only to the popular initiative.

The Outcomes

Addressing ad emotional issue, the people accepted the initiative calling for the incarceration for life of repeat offenders convicted of violent and sex crimes, deemed extremely dangerous to society and regarded as untreatable.

This proposal was self-explanatory. The government had recommended rejection of the initiative, but--with the exception of the people of cantons Basel-City and Vaud (Waadt)--all the others accepted the proposal. The 'Yes' vote was given by 56.2 per cent of the voters.

According to the new constitutional provision, such notorious criminals would only be released from custody, if new scientific knowledge proved that they could be treated and rehabilitated.

The advocates of the initiative declared a victory for the potential victims of heinous crimes, over the government's existing experimentation with ways of treating such "menaces to society."

Events in recent years have sparked more controversy with regard to the practice of granting parole and prison furloughs to career criminals. In a country that enjoys relatively low crime rates (according to data compiled by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office in 1999, there were 58 convicted murderers serving sentences in Swiss prisons), the issue had apparently touched a nerve among the populace.

The Federal Council's counterproposal to the so-called 'Avanti initiative' was resoundingly rejected by the people by a margin of 62.8 per cent. The majority in all the cantons opposed the proposal on additional funds for improving the private and public transportation systems in the agglomerations.

Mountainous regions registered the strongest dissent in this regard. The government's program had called for investing roughly CHF 30 billion over the next 20 years in the nation's transportation infrastructure.

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