Swiss activists have called a referendum to strip the government of new legal powers to impose lockdowns and restrict public life as the country battles the pandemic.
The Friends of the Constitution campaign group on Wednesday handed over a petition of 86,000 signatures collected over the past three months – well beyond the 50,000 required – to officially launch a nationwide vote to repeal the Covid-19 law 2020 within the framework of the highly decentralized democratic system of Switzerland. .
The result will be legally binding, with a vote scheduled for June.
While the pandemic has exposed social and political divides across Europe over citizens’ rights, in Switzerland – where the rights of individuals are often treated as culturally sacrosanct and the powers of government are strictly proscribed by law – the tensions became particularly evident.
“In our opinion, the [government] take advantage of the pandemic to introduce more control and less democracy, ”Christoph Pfluger, member of the board of the Friends of the Constitution, told the Financial Times.
He added: “The long term problems that will result from this type of approach will be serious. We are a movement that says that crisis management cannot be done without the will of the sovereign – the people. You cannot rule without the people.
Mr Pfluger said Switzerland would be the first and perhaps the only country to give its citizens a direct vote on the coronavirus restrictions.
Until the end of December, the federal Council in power in Bern had hesitated to impose restrictions during the second wave of the pandemic.
Stubborn opposition by many Swiss to further restrictions and dire warnings from many of the country’s most powerful and influential lobby groups over the economic consequences of yet another shutdown has prevented action as it approaches. Christmas, even as the number of cases skyrocketed.
A poll carried out in November by the Swiss research institute Sotomo for the public broadcaster SRF found that 55% of Swiss people fear their personal freedoms will be restricted by government measures. The same survey found that even an 11pm curfew for bars and restaurants was considered too restrictive by a third of Swiss people.
Mr Pfluger said her campaign was “amazed” by the level of volunteer support it had gained in recent weeks and how quickly it was able to collect signatures.
The Swiss government’s laissez-faire approach exploded into a diplomatic deadlock in early December as the country refused to force its ski resorts to close, at the same time. anger of his alpine neighbors.
On December 18, however, Bern was forced to order the nationwide closure of restaurants, bars and leisure facilities which will remain in effect until the end of February. On Wednesday, the closure was extended to cover stores selling non-essential items.
The referendum called Wednesday targets the legislation underlying these brakes.
The Covid-19 law, approved by lawmakers in September, gives Swiss authorities a continuing legal basis to impose restrictions on handling the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Prior to the legislation, Berne had the power to restrict public life only through unilateral emergency decrees under Swiss epidemic law. These powers were strictly limited in time and subject to onerous parliamentary control.
Critics of the campaign to repeal the new laws note that by the time the referendum takes place, not only will the pandemic likely be in remission, but many legal provisions granted under the Covid-19 law will automatically lapse in accordance with the clauses extinction. enshrined in legislation.
Friends of the Constitution say they are fighting to prevent a precedent being set for future emergencies. “On a purely objective level, the [Covid-19] the law is not that important, ”Pfluger said. “But it’s a part of a bigger puzzle.”
According to the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, the country recorded 3,001 new infections on Tuesday, a rate of 477 per 100,000 inhabitants. The numbers have been declining slowly but steadily since the new year and are down sharply from the peak of 10,558 new cases per day recorded on November 2.