My take on Swiss politics: Campaigns (and campaign ads) are much more fun than their American counterparts.

There are certain things about the U.S. that I truly miss. My friends and family foremost of course, college basketball on the weekends, and affordable peanut butter to name a few. But topping the list of things I don’t miss at all? American politics and the campaign process. I wish the American system was more like the Swiss system.

The best feature of the Swiss political system is that advertising on TV or the radio is prohibited. I don’t watch much Swiss TV, but for those who do, they don’t have to sit through endless ads of each side appealing to the lowest common denominator to demonize the other side. I think that’s a really good thing. No, the principal way the Swiss campaign is through small “billboards” around town.

Cool!  Al Di Meola's coming to town!

Cool! Al Di Meola’s coming to town!

Most of the time, these billboards contain promotional ads for art museums or live music events. Only during the last couple weeks before an election do they become political campaign ads.

 

 

 

Typically, they are clustered, as in the photo below.

Billboards advocating or opposing the 3 November 30 referenda issues

Billboards advocating or opposing the 3 November 30 referenda issues

I haven’t witnessed an election for public office yet, but here is a quick tutorial on the Swiss referenda process, which just took places on November 30. The Swiss hold four elections per year in which the electorate votes (almost exclusively by mail-in ballot, I’m told) on proposed amendments to the Swiss Constitution that have received a minimum of 100,000 signatures of support. Initiatives that meet this threshold go before the electorate, and if they gain a simple majority, the constitution is amended on the spot. As a Swiss Sojourner public service, I offer my readers this synopsis of the referendum held last week, where I will describe BRIEFLY each of the three issues that were on the ballot, a sample of its supporting or opposing billboard (with my version of the English translation), and then the results of the vote.

1. The “Swiss Gold Initiative” would require the Swiss to keep at least 20% of the assets of the Swiss National Bank in actual gold reserves. It would also require all Swiss gold currently held in New York’s Federal Reserves Bank returned to Switzerland and halt all Swiss gold sales moving forward. This measure was introduced by a member of parliament and representative of the People’s Party named Luzi Stamm who argues that Switzerland’s economy is threatened by a “paper based” monetary policy. Or as Voltaire put it way back in 1729: “Paper money eventually returns to its intrinsic value: Zero.” Opponents of the measure, most notably the Swiss government and the Swiss National Bank assert that the measure would hamstring the ability of the Swiss Bank to set monetary policy.

The billboard below says “The Gold Initiative – YES – For strong money!”. There was no organized “No” campaign, and yet the measure failed miserably 23% in favor, 77% opposed.

A "Yes" billboard for the Swiss Gold Initiative

A “Yes” billboard for the Swiss Gold Initiative

2. Abolish the “flat tax” system that currently provides a tax benefit to wealthy foreigners (no, not me) by assessing a flat tax rate that is a function of the cost of living in the country as opposed to a progressive rate based on income and assets.  This tax structure dates back to rules first implemented in 1862, and was designed to encourage rich retirees to locate in Switzerland. (People currently benefitting from this provision include the founder of IKEA — whose name I’m not going to bother mentioning because you’ll just forget it –, Phil Collins of Genesis fame, and Tina Turner of Ike and Tina Turner fame.

Here is a fun billboard in opposition to the measure, saying essentially “vote no, because if you vote to abolish the preferable tax treatment for all the really rich people, they will all leave Switzerland and it’ll be the middle class that will have to make up the difference, and you will be left with empty pockets, like this poor sap.”

If all the rich people leave, this guy will have to make up the difference

If all the rich people leave, this guy will have to make up the difference

So the “no” argument attempts to appeal to the middle class who they say will get shafted when all the rich people leave.  Interestingly, the “yes” argument also appeals to the middle class, asserting the opposite side of the same coin.  Their argument, represented in the billboard shown below says, “You pay your taxes from income and assets” (aside the photo of the high density apartment building) and “Not them” (aside the home that Tina Turner or someone of her ilk lives in.) So their argument focuses on what they perceive to be the inherent unfairness of the existing system, which assumes that few of the very rich will leave town if the initiative were to pass.

"Class warfare"?  Maybe so...

“Class warfare”? Maybe so…

This one also failed on a 41% to 59% margin, which must mean that most Swiss don’t want Tina Turner to leave town.

3.  The so-called “Eco-Pop” referendum is a cleverly named and branded initiative introduced by an “environmental organization” to “stop overpopulation and safeguard natural resources”.  The initiative would limit immigration growth to 0.2% of the population per year, on the grounds that the current rate of growth from immigration (3% annual rate through August in 2014)  is unsustainable and threatens Swiss quality of life. Here is a billboard opposing the initiative. The tree is in a cloud of air pollution and is irritated at the guy in the car who is saying, “It’s not me, it’s them!”

Blame Game

Blame Game

This one also failed by a decisive margin, 23% to 77%.

Just one man’s opinion, but I prefer the Swiss political campaign process to the American process. I’m the Swiss Sojourner and I approve this message!

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