Switzerland holding referendum on power of government to impose lockdowns


Switzerland will hold a referendum on whether to strip the government of its power to impose new lockdown measures amid an increasing national debate about the rights of individuals.

The Financial Times reported that Friends of the Constitution, a campaign group, on Wednesday triggered the vote by submitting a petition of 86,000 signatures calling for a nationwide vote on whether to repeal the 2020 COVID-19 Act.

The new vote, which will not be held until at least June, is the consequence of a growing national debate about the impact of coronavirus legislation on individual rights, the Financial Times reported.

The country is one of the world’s oldest democracies and places a heavy emphasis on individual liberty, with its federal constitution pledging to protect “the liberty and rights of the people.”

Switzerland’s government has not implemented strict lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic like many European countries, instead emphasizing the role of personal responsibility.

But the country this week tightened existing measures amid concern about new, more transmissible strains of the virus which have been linked to rising infection rates, Reuters reported.

Non-essential shops have been closed, workers have been ordered to stay at home and private gatherings have been limited to a maximum of five people.

Christoph Pfluger, a board member at Friends of the Constitution, told the Financial Times that the group believed the government was “taking advantage of the pandemic to introduce more control and less democracy.”

Under the Swiss model of direct democracy, citizens can trigger a referendum to vote down laws introduced by parliament if they collect more than 50,000 signatures within 100 days. The country holds multiple referendums every year on issues including a Universal Basic Income, same-sex marriage, and wolf hunting.

Earlier this year the country canceled a vote scheduled for May and suspended campaigns for other referendums in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

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