Banning full face coverings will deter tourists and “will be of no use to certain groups of women,” the Swiss government said ahead of the March 7 vote.
The Swiss government on Tuesday recommended voters reject a proposal in a referendum scheduled for March 7 to ban full face coverings such as burqas and niqabs, worn by some Muslim women, saying the move would hurt tourism.
In the Swiss system of direct democracy, any proposal to amend the constitution is put to a popular vote if the supporters collect more than 100,000 signatures.
In 2009, Swiss voters backed a proposal to ban the construction of new minarets.
The Swiss cantons of St. Gallen and Ticino have already banned full coverage in regional votes, but the Swiss government has said a national constitutional ban is a bad idea.
“Very few people in Switzerland wear full face masks,” the government said in a statement.
“A national ban would undermine the sovereignty of the cantons, undermine tourism and be of no use to certain groups of women,” he said.
Most of the women who wear full face masks are tourists and only spend a brief time in the country, the statement added.
Montreux and other destinations around Lake Geneva, as well as Interlaken in central Switzerland, traditionally attract Muslim tourists, mainly from the wealthy Arab Gulf states.
Switzerland’s proposal also prohibits forcing someone to wear a face mask based on their gender.
The group behind the proposal – the “Egerkinger Komitee” which includes members of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) – was also behind the 2009 decision to ban minarets, which was approved by nearly 60 percent of voters. .
Supporters of the 2009 proposal saw minarets as foreign to Swiss traditions and values.
Muslims make up only about 5% of Switzerland’s 8.6 million inhabitants, according to official statistics.
The Swiss government has made a counter-proposal to the facial cover ban that would go into effect if voters rejected the original proposal on March 7.
This would require women wearing face masks to reveal their faces if necessary for identification in administrative offices or on public transport.
Elsewhere in Europe, France and Denmark have banned face coverings.