Voters in Canton Vaud in western Switzerland will decide next week whether or not foreigners can vote on a cantonal level and if they can be elected to political office. If the result is a ’Yes’, it will be a first for Switzerland.

"/> Voters in Canton Vaud in western Switzerland will decide next week whether or not foreigners can vote on a cantonal level and if they can be elected to political office. If the result is a ’Yes’, it will be a first for Switzerland.

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Foreigners could get right to vote in Vaud

Voters in Canton Vaud in western Switzerland will decide next week whether or not foreigners can vote on a cantonal level and if they can be elected to political office. If the result is a ’Yes’, it will be a first for Switzerland.

Foreigners could get right to vote in Vaud
Mark and Allegra Jaroski-Biava

Foreigners can already vote on a cantonal level in Jura and in Neuenburg in western Switzerland, but can not run as candidates for political office.

The ’Live and vote here’ (Vivre et voter ici) initiative was first launched in 2009 by a committee of 40 members from immigrant associations, foreign communities, individuals and elected politicians under the banner: “Integration happens because of participation, not rejection“.

“Integration of foreign nationals is not helped by their stigmatisation. Political rights are a central element of the feeling of belonging to a community,“ the committee said at the launch of the initiative.

According to the initiative, foreigners would receive voting rights if they have lived more than ten years in Switzerland and have been registered for more than three years in Canton Vaud. Approximately 85,000 people would benefit, or around 18 percent of voters.

“There are countries that do not accept dual nationality,” Serge Sagbo of the Christian Democratic People’s Party told The Local. 

“These foreign nationals would be able to vote and become candidates under the initiative. There are also those who do not want to assume Swiss nationality, but want to contribute.”

Sagbo said the Vaud branch of the party had decided at a general meeting to lend its support to the initiative despite the reservations of some members.

If the vote on the initiative on September 4th is successful, foreigners could be voted into the Vaud cantonal parliament in Lausanne. It would also be possible to elect foreigners as councillors, as that is governed by cantonal law.

More than 14,000 signatures were received supporting the initiative. 2,000 signatures are needed to force a referendum at cantonal level.

The Green Party in Canton Vaud launched its own campaign on August 12th this year to drum up support for the ’Live and vote here’ initiative.

“It has been a big success despite the tendency against migratory politics in Switzerland,” said Raphael Mahaim, co-president of the ‘Live and vote here’ committee, and a member of the Green Party.

Anne Baehler-Bech, based in Lausanne, is a member of the Green Party who launched the initiative.

“Certain parties on the left are supporting the campaign that foreigners who are well integrated and know Switzerland well be given the same rights as Swiss people when voting at cantonal level,“ she told The Local.

Those in favour of the initiative say it is unfair that people who have been living and paying taxes in Switzerland for a long time can not take part in votes and elections.

“It is a question of justice. Most foreigners work for our prosperity, pay taxes, send their children to school. It is only right that they can also give their opinion on economic, fiscal or educational questions in their canton,“ the Green Party said at the launch of their campaign.

Opponents of the initiative include the liberal FDP and LPD parties, the far-right SVP (Swiss People’s Party), and the green-liberal GLP.

They say that integration of foreigners should be marked by naturalisation. The choice to accept Swiss citizenship is a positive indicator of integration, they say.

Those in favour of the initiative argue that naturalisation is not an argument against the granting of the right to vote. On the contrary, the right to vote amplifies the sentiment of integration and could drive interest in naturalisation, they say.

Vaud is known as a pioneering canton, being the first canton to give women the right to vote in 1959.

The Swiss government is not involved in the initiative.

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German Greens’ chancellor candidate Baerbock targeted by fake news

With Germany's Green party leading the polls ahead of September's general elections, the ecologists' would-be successor to Angela Merkel has become increasingly targeted by internet trolls and fake news in recent weeks.

German Greens' chancellor candidate Baerbock targeted by fake news
The Greens chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock on April 26th. Photo: DPA

From wild claims about CO2-emitting cats and dogs to George Soros photo collages, 40-year-old Annalena Baerbock has been the subject of a dizzying array of fake news, conspiracy theories and online attacks since she was announced as the Greens’ chancellor candidate in mid-April.

The latest polls have the Greens either ahead of or level with Merkel’s ruling conservatives, as the once fringe party further establishes itself as a leading electoral force in Europe’s biggest economy.

Baerbock herself also consistently polls higher than her conservative and centre-left rivals in the race to succeed Merkel, who will leave office after 16 years this autumn.

Yet her popularity has also brought about unwanted attention and a glut of fake news stories aimed at discrediting Baerbock as she bids to become Germany’s first Green chancellor.


False claims

Among the false stories circulating about Baerbock is the bizarre claim that she wants to ban household pets in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Another fake story firmly denied by the party claimed that she defied rules on mask-wearing and social-distancing by embracing colleagues upon her nomination earlier this month.

Baerbock has also been presented as a “model student” of Hungarian billionaire George Soros – a hate figure for the European far-right and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists – in a mocked-up social media graphic shared among others by a far-right MP.

More serious online attacks include a purported photo of Baerbock which in fact shows a similar-looking naked model.

The Greens’ campaign manager Michael Kellner said that the attempts to discredit Baerbock had “taken on a new dimension”, that “women are targeted more heavily by online attacks than men, and that is also true of our candidate”.

Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock earlier this month. Photo: DPA

Other false claims about the party include reports of a proposed ban on barbecues, as well as plans to disarm the police and enforce the teaching of the Quran in schools.

While such reports are patently absurd, they are potentially damaging to Baerbock and her party as they bid to spring a surprise victory in September.

“She has a very real chance, but the coming weeks are going to be very important because Baerbock’s public image is still taking shape,” Thorsten Faas, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University told AFP.

In a bid to fight back against the flood of false information, the party has launched a new “online fire service” to report fake news stories.

READ ALSO: Greens become ‘most popular political party’ in Germany

Russian disinformation

Yet stemming the tide is no easy job, with many of those who peddle disinformation now using private messaging services such as WhatsApp and Telegram rather than public platforms such as Facebook.

The pandemic and ongoing restrictions on public life will also make it harder for the campaign to push through their own narratives at public events.

Miro Dittrich of Germany’s Amadeu-Antonio anti-racism foundation claims that lockdown has “played a role” in the spread of fake news.

“People are isolated from their social environment and are spending a lot more time online,” he said.

Another factor is Russia, which has made Germany a primary target of its efforts to spread disinformation in Europe.

According to the European anti-disinformation platform EUvsDisinfo, Germany has been the target of 700 Russian disinformation cases since 2015, compared to 300 aimed at France and 170 at Italy.

As an outspoken critic of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, Baerbock may well become a target of such attacks during the election campaign.

By Mathieu FOULKES