Swiss voters reject move to end conscription army

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 3:28am


For the third time in almost a quarter of a century, neutral Switzerland has overwhelmingly voted to maintain its conscription army.

Voters in all 26 cantons (states) rejected, by a margin of 73 per cent opposed to 27 per cent in favour, the military service referendum pacifists and left-wing parties had put forward to do away with a conscription army, Swiss public broadcaster SRF reported.

"It is a yes to the army and to more security," Swiss President Ueli Maurer, who also is the defence minister, told a news conference on Sunday.

Nearly two-thirds of voters in the country's Italian-speaking southern canton of Ticino approved a right-wing populist measure to ban wearing full face veils in public areas, a move that mirrors bans in Belgium and France but does not specifically mention Muslims.

It is the first such ban to be approved in any of Switzerland's cantons, and drew immediate condemnation from the national Central Islamic Council and Amnesty International, which called it a victory for fear over reason and respect.

About 400,000 Muslims live in Switzerland - about 5 per cent of the eight million population - many of them from the Balkans and North Africa. In 2009, the country drew widespread criticism when voters banned construction of new minarets on mosques, in a referendum opposed by the government but championed by the nationalist, anti-immigration Swiss People's Party. Of the veil ban in Ticino, Maurer said it "underlines a certain degree of disquiet in the population".

Swiss voters turned down a more radical plan to scrap the army altogether in 1989 that was put forward by the Group for Switzerland without an Army (GSoA). Despite its defeat, the proposal gained support from more than a third of voters. A second nationwide vote on a similar initiative brought by the group in 2001 drew 22 per cent approval.

Swiss voters have a close attachment to the military. Farmers, watchmakers and bankers alike undergo basic training for 18 to 21 weeks, then keep their uniforms and weapons at home to be ready for tours of duty and rapid mobilisation.