GENEVA: Switzerland will once again vote on the controversial issue of automatically deporting foreign residents convicted of crime on Sunday, after a far-right push to tighten the rules further.
In a popular vote more than five years ago, 52.9 percent backed the automatic expulsion of foreign nationals living in Switzerland who were convicted of certain crimes.
But the populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has accused parliament of dragging its feet on adapting the text into law and watering it down when it finally did so last March.
The party, known for its virulent campaigns against immigration, the European Union and Islam, is behind the initiative calling for “a real deportation of criminal foreigners.”
If it passes it would dramatically increase the number of offenses that can get foreign nationals automatically kicked out of Switzerland, including misdemeanors usually punishable with only short prison sentences or even fines.
It would also remove a judge’s right to refrain from deportation in cases where it would cause the foreign national “serious personal hardship.”
“The adopted law is nothing but a paper tiger,” SVP, Switzerland’s largest party, complains in a pamphlet urging voters to tighten the rules and make expulsions truly automatic.
The initiative faces stiff opposition, including from the government, parliament and all the other major political parties, who have warned it circumvents the “fundamental rules” of democracy.
More than 50,000 people including hundreds of celebrities have also signed a petition against it.
This week, opponents put up posters featuring the white cross of the Swiss flag twisted into a swastika and comparing the possible passing of SVP’s initiative with Hitler’s nomination as German chancellor in 1933 and the introduction of apartheid in South Africa in 1948.
Opponents warn that if the text passes, people born to foreign parents in Switzerland risk being deported to countries they have never lived in, for only minor offenses.
SVP’s campaign initially garnered strong support, but appears to have lost some steam among voters.
According to the latest gfs.bern poll, published earlier this month, 49 percent of those questioned opposed the text while 46 percent were in favor.
But with five percent still undecided, the vote could go either way.
“It is very tight,” political scientist Pascal Sciarini told AFP, adding though that the “excessive” measures called for in the initiative might tip the contest for the “no” camp.
Last time they voted on the issue, the Swiss agreed to automatically deport foreigners found guilty of murder, rape and other serious sexual offenses, violent crimes like robbery, drug trafficking and abusing social aid.
The initiative under scrutiny on Sunday wants any foreigner found guilty of two lower-level infractions — including fighting, money laundering, giving false testimony and indecent exposure — in the space of 10 years to be automatically expelled.