Ava Lon, who translates French, German, and Polish for us, used to live in Switzerland and has Swiss citizenship. In the following account she describes the sneaky way the Swiss government manipulates “direct democracy” to get the results it wants in referendums and ballot questions.
How the Swiss Government Gets the Answers it Wants to Ballot Questions
by Ava Lon
Swiss people have a very sensitive point: Their wallet. They don’t like to share it, they don’t want to lose it, they want to control its contents, and really hate it when the government tries to put its sticky fingers inside.
It’s been a while since I noticed that in Switzerland, like almost everywhere else in the West, it doesn’t matter anymore what party is in power: it’s always the progressives. As such, they have a progressive agenda, and we almost didn’t notice how and when it happened, because it happened — you guessed it — progressively .
Still, or maybe because of that, I don’t miss one opportunity to vote through the mail, whenever Switzerland is voting. I do that because I care about this country that opened its doors to me. I try to repay their hospitality by making sure I participate in the political process, so nothing bad happens on my watch. Not that I am so important, but like all Swiss, I am being asked about almost everything by the government, because the rule is that the citizens, not the parliament and not the government, have the last word.
And I am not even talking about the referendums Switzerland is quite famous for. No: every little detail might be decided by the citizens on a county, cantonal or federal level. Those are not elections, nor referendums; this is a normal process of governing the country. Referendums, if they happen, and they often do, require the citizens to collect 100,000 signatures and deposit them in Bern to start the process of preparation for the referendum. When everything is ready for a vote, a referendum question will be sent to me by mail with all others questions, mostly concerning finances.
When I was living near Zurich in a small town called Dübendorf, our street was in a terrible state. Hard to believe, when you know how much Swiss care about the looks of their towns and cities. Almost every inch of this street, however, was the pure definition of a pothole, and some of those holes seemed to be the very bottomless pit brought to us by Revelation.
We were quite puzzled by that sight, my Swiss husband and I, but very soon we found out the reason: the voting papers arrived by mail, as usual, and inside was the question concerning not only that county, but also our street. The question was: would you like to ask for 500,000 CHF (Swiss francs) credit from such-and -such bank to fix that road? Our road. There! We thought: Thank God, it’ll be taken care of . And we voted ‘yes’ to the credit. To our surprise on the next day, the rest of the county voted ‘no’. “What does it mean? You can already see China through those holes!” My husband was ranting. “We are already driving 5mph over here. Are they crazy? They should all come here, before voting like that!”
Now, this is how we, the people living on that street, saw that voting question. The rest of the voters, however saw: half a million francs that they will have to pay from their pockets…
The Swiss people know two things: credits have eventually be paid back, and there’s no such thing as government money or even taxpayer money: it’s their money. Their sweat and blood. So no, no credit for that street. It took three years to have it decided, but this time I suppose everybody in the village experienced our street with the wheels of their own car. Now, that was long and painful!
Well, this is direct democracy for you, and it is good to feel responsible for what’s yours, like your town, or your county, or your country. And no politician can take that away from you, because you have the last word. Or have you?
The progressive politicians coming under the names of all parties (except for one, yes, the one that media calls right-wing, racist, xenophobic and ignorant) are really upset about that direct democracy; they would like so badly to align with wonderful and generous people like Angela Merkel or François Hollande, who are “generously” sharing what is not theirs: “their” countries, with whoever feels like moving in. Swiss people would have to decide on this too, you see; that would be the law, since they decide even about a street no longer than a quarter of a mile.
Now the Swiss, like that xenophobic party of theirs, don’t know what is truly good for them. Politicians have been trying to “fix” that for some time already. When it proved impossible to get rid of the idea of referendum and direct democracy, they started looking at the questions that the citizens are being asked, when they vote. What if the question were confusing? What if there was double negation, so people wouldn’t know what this ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would mean eventually? What if the question being asked would stress not the issue, but its cost? The Swiss are so sensitive to the costs of everything they pay for. They actually like to be able to afford what they are buying, and hate the idea of printing the money to pretend the country is richer than it really is. Crazy, right?
So that’s how it went: a couple of weeks ago we were asked about the asylum procedures being shortened. It sounded good, and the bulletin everyone gets along with the voting papers explained that it will be cheaper for the taxpayers when applications by foreigners applying for asylum would have to be processed, by law, in three months instead of a year.
“Do you want that?” the question was asked . “Sure,” I thought. “There will be fewer meals to pay for, less electricity, less everything, and they will know about their future sooner. Fantastic.” And I voted ‘yes’. Stupid cow. That would be me. Like most of the voters, which I found out the day after, I fell into the trap. Most of us said ‘yes’. You know what it really means? The word will get around, that the Swiss procedures are very fast. The crowd will turn in our direction. Exactly what “generous” progressives, who worded the question, wanted.
Why didn’t I realize that the more important issue would be: what are the conditions for a person to be given asylum? And: are people who threw their passports away still being considered? (As is the standard procedure for “Syrian” refugees.)
Or: will their families be able to join? Who, exactly? Aunties and uncles as well? All the wives? (and no, not all four, because in “sub-Saharan Syria” where lots of them come from, there are sometimes more than four.)
I didn’t ask any of those questions. They didn’t even cross my mind. Instead I, along with my fellows citizens, swallowed the hook, and, wanting to be responsible and careful with money, we actually invited the barbarian hordes in.