Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Swiss are poised to vote on whether to revive secret ballots to decide on citizenship

Switzerland's Supreme Court outlawed the secret ballots five years ago, ruling that they were discriminatory. But many Swiss say not allowing voters to have the final say violates Switzerland's system of direct democracy. Switzerland already has some of the toughest naturalisation laws in the world. Candidates for citizenship must have lived in the country for at least 12 years - they must prove that they can speak the language, and that they understand Swiss laws and culture. What is more, being born in Switzerland does not bring an automatic right to citizenship. In Switzerland, people wanting to be Swiss must apply through their local community. In many towns and villages, the final hurdle to citizenship is often the approval of local residents at a town hall meeting, or, in the past, by secret ballot. Two ethnic Turkish men, Elias Ego and Manuel Dogdu, have long experience of this process. They have lived all their lives in the central Swiss town of Schwyz, but they have Turkish nationality. Schwyz, with a population of 40,000, was one of the towns which used secret ballots to approve new citizens. "They distributed brochures with our pictures to all the voters," remembers Elias. "There was a little CV with information about us, and our nationality. We had passed all the language tests with flying colours," adds Manuel. "The authorities recommended us for citizenship." Manuel and Elias, together with their parents, brothers and sisters, had hoped the ballot would be a formality. Instead it turned out to be a humiliating public rejection. "We've been rejected four times now," says Manuel.

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