Switzerland will hold a referendum on whether to strip government of lockdown powers


Switzerland will hold a referendum on whether to strip the government of its power to impose lockdown measures

  • Campaigners handed in petition with 86,000 signatures on Wednesday 
  • Swiss will be able to repeal the swingeing Covid-19 Act with referendum in June
  • Comes after bill passed in September which gives more lockdown powers
  • Recent closure of restaurants and bars has infuriated the famously liberal Swiss  

Switzerland will hold a referendum on whether to strip the government of its power to impose lockdown measures.

Campaigners handed in a petition with 86,000 signatures on Wednesday, well above the 50,000 required to trigger a nationwide vote under the country’s system of direct democracy.

The Covid-19 Act, passed in September last year, has infuriated the famously liberal Swiss as it grants central government unchecked powers to impose indefinite rules to stop the spread of the virus.

But it could now be repealed in June, when the referendum is scheduled, making Switzerland the first and only country to allow its citizens a direct vote on the swingeing lockdown restrictions faced across the world.

Switzerland recorded 2,474 new coronavirus cases on Thursday and another 65 deaths, continuing a downward trend since Christmas. The country has been recording an average of 2,581 new infections - that's just 31 percent of the peak in early November.

Switzerland recorded 2,474 new coronavirus cases on Thursday and another 65 deaths, continuing a downward trend since Christmas. The country has been recording an average of 2,581 new infections – that’s just 31 percent of the peak in early November.

There have been a total of 492,832 cases and 7,904 coronavirus-related deaths recorded since the pandemic began

There have been a total of 492,832 cases and 7,904 coronavirus-related deaths recorded since the pandemic began

‘In our opinion, the [government] is taking advantage of the pandemic to introduce more control and less democracy,’ Christoph Pfluger, board member of Friends of the Constitution which spearheaded the campaign, told the Financial Times.

‘The long-term problems that will arise from this kind of approach will be grave. We are a movement that says crisis management cannot be done without the will of the sovereign — the people. You cannot govern without the people.’

Prior to the Covid-19 Act passing in September, the Federal Council in Bern could only issue edicts under the Epidemics Act, which were time-limited and hampered by parliamentary opposition.

However, the Bern executive had continued to operate in a relatively laissez-faire manner – much to the irritation of Switzerland’s Alpine neighbours, furious that skiers were still being invited into the country. 

Powerful lobby groups in the Swiss financial sector have been able to impress upon the government the catastrophic economic impacts of any further restrictions.

Meanwhile the populace have been thoroughly in favour of looser measures, with 55 percent telling the state broadcaster in November that they were worried about their liberty being restricted.

SRF’s survey also found that a third of respondents believed an 11pm curfew for bars and restaurants was too harsh.

But on December 18, with a rising tide of infections and fear spreading across Europe, Switzerland shutdown its bars, restaurants and leisure facilities.

Yesterday, the rules were extended to include non-essential retail.

In the wake of the changes last month, Mr Pfluger told the FT his team had been ‘astonished’ at the level of support which they had gained for their campaign in recent weeks, allowing them to gather thousands of signatories. 

A policeman patrols Verbier, the affluent Swiss ski resort has been in the spotlight after a number of British tourists fled quarantine measures. Famously liberal Switzerland has also infuriated its Alpine neighbours by keeping its ski resorts open

A policeman patrols Verbier, the affluent Swiss ski resort has been in the spotlight after a number of British tourists fled quarantine measures. Famously liberal Switzerland has also infuriated its Alpine neighbours by keeping its ski resorts open

Critics of their campaign say that the pandemic will have retreated by the time the referendum is held in the summer and that the legal basis for the Covid-19 Act will have dissolved.

But the campaigners argue that defeating the act in a referendum ‘is part of a bigger puzzle’ to prevent the government from introducing such onerous rules in a future emergency.

Switzerland recorded 2,474 new coronavirus cases on Thursday and another 65 deaths, continuing a downward trend since Christmas. 

The country has been recording an average of 2,581 new infections – that’s just 31 percent of the peak in early November.

There have been a total of 492,832 cases and 7,904 coronavirus-related deaths recorded since the pandemic began.



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