On February 9th, the Swiss electorate will vote in a referendum on a proposal to reintroduce immigration quotas. The initiative, ‘against mass immigration,’ by the conservative Swiss People’s Party has been gaining ground, with an opinion poll last month finding 43% support for the proposal, up 6% since December. Other right-wing forces backing the initiative have seized the opportunity to promote their own anti-Muslim immigration agenda.
SwissInfo “Parties to the right have succeeded in particular in mobilising their grassroots across the country,” said Claude Longchamp, head of the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute. The political scientist expects a high turnout in the ballot, notably among rightwing voters and people who have no clear political affiliations but who distrust the government.
The GfS Bern survey, published on Wednesday by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, also found that a number of respondents, considered centrist or leftwing, sympathise with the idea of tightening immigration policy, but they want to stay away from the ballot box.
“The mobilization by the political parties in the last days of the campaign will be decisive,” Longchamp summed up. Turnout could reach 50% – the highest level since the last general elections in 2011, according to the pollsters.
Five times over the past 15 years voters have rejected attempts to curb immigration or limit the free movement of people from the European Union. The People’s Party has warned that Switzerland can no longer cope with the influx of mostly Muslim immigrants – around 80,000 annually over the past few years. The party wants to re-introduce quotas, which would also include limits on the number of asylum seekers allowed in the country, to control immigration.
However, the government, the business community and most political parties say restrictions would undermine the country’s economic prosperity, lead to more red tape and put at risk a series of bilateral accords with the EU, Switzerland’s main trading partner.
The campaign in the run-up to the vote has been “short and intense”, as Longchamp pointed out. “Media attention has been gigantic with adverts in the newspapers on a daily basis.” It is estimated that the campaigns by supporters and opponents of the initiative cost around CHF10 million ($11.1 million).
The turning point may have been the traditional assembly by the People’s Party in Zurich in mid-January where party leaders raised the tone and attacked the government and its immigration policy.
Swiss Parliament member Oskar Freysinger’s wildly popular but chilling speech warns about the dangers of Islam: