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Swiss Voters Reign Supreme
By CLARE NULLIS, Associated Press Writer
BERN, Switzerland (AP) -- Test tube babies. Jobs for women. Traffic overload.
Not to mention animal rights, asylum seekers, abolition of the army, European integration and U.N. membership.
It's voting time in Switzerland. Again. And again. ... And again. This small Alpine nation of 7 million inhabitants accounts for an estimated half the referendum ballots worldwide.
Since the modern Swiss constitution took effect in 1848, the Swiss have been summoned to the national ballot box no less than 471 times on a bewildering array of subjects. They are now asked to decide national issues an average of three times a year. And that doesn't include local votes on issues like building projects and school lessons.
''We are the world record holders in voting,'' declares Jean Clerk, a senior official with the Swiss liamentary services, proud that he personally has voted in 250 nationwide polls. ''It's a fundamental part of Swiss democracy.''
Under direct democracy rules, 100,000 signatures on a petition are enough to prompt a referendum to introduce a new law, and 50,000 signatures can challenge a proposed government law.
There are six so-called popular initiatives currently gathering signatures, all of which have to be checked and double-checked for authenticity before being delivered to the government.
Many don't make the grade: plans to ''save our youth'' with the reintroduction of the death penalty for drug dealers, removal of dog dirt from public places, the use of carrier pigeons in the army -- all recent examples of those that failed to cross the 100,000 mark.
Roughly 30 proposals are currently under government or parliamentary consideration and in the long line for voting.
Right-wing critics, however, maintain the line is TOO long. How do they suggest solving the problem? By holding another vote.
One of the proposals in Sunday's poll would impose a 12-month limit between a petition being submitted to the government and the actual referendum.
Supporters say popular initiatives are too often put on a back burner for political and tactical reasons. Nonsense, counter the authorities who say such a cap would cripple any meaningful debate.
Most experts agree the proposal is likely to be thrown out, as are others to impose tough restrictions on in-vitro fertilization, introduce minimum quotas for women in federal employment and halve road traffic.
Voter turnout is expected to be around 35 percent.
''I won't vote,'' says Fabian Grillon, a 32-year-old chef. ''I'm not interested in politics and it's all to complicated.''
The referendums that draw even half the 4.5 million electorate are rare. The most recent record was in 1992, when about 79 percent turned out to reject a government proposal to join a loose European free trade pact.
While voters have followed the government's advice in about three-quarters of all polls, that's not so for foreign policy. Government efforts to end Switzerland's self-imposed isolation have invariably ended in failure.
To repair the damage caused by the 1992 trade pact vote, the government painstakingly negotiated a series of trade agreements with the European Union to safeguard vital Swiss export industries. But even these have been challenged by nationalists and so will be put to a popular vote May 21.
Another looming challenge is U.N. membership. Proponents only just managed to scrape by a deadline to hand in the petition, partly by copying other lobby groups and paying students to collect signatures.
''We have a got a lot of work in front of us,'' concedes Patrick Loeb, head of the U.N. organizing committee -- mindful that efforts to join the world body were thrown out by a massive 75 percent majority in 1986.
The U.N. initiative joins the other pending referendums, which include proposals to ban abortion, to abolish the army and replace it with a voluntary civil defense service, even one to ban pleasure fights by water jets over Swiss lakes.
''We vote on everything'' sighs Geneva florist Maurice Lavergnat. ''We even vote on taxes.''
''Even more amazingly, we even vote to increase them.''
-- viewer (email@example.com), March 09, 2000
bloody good system and a good control over politicians, if you don't wanna vote then thats your problem stops politicians exclusively pursuing their own agenda as they do in the UK and US
especially voting on tax
-- sir richard (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 09, 2000.