“The high voter turnout clearly shows that the initiative had strongly moved Swiss citizens. This is because it had put into question the core foundations of Switzerland’s political system that has strong elements of direct democracy. A “Yes” vote in the “Enforcement Initiative” would have upset the delicate balance of democracy and the rule of law” states Bruno Kaufmann, board member of Democracy International and a Swiss citizen.
The “Enforcement Initiative” had aimed to anchor the detailed rules for the deportation of foreigners in the constitution itself, denying judges the possibility to exercise the principle of proportionality in individual cases. In practice, this would have weakened the protection of minorities (those foreigners living in Switzerland) and also, it would have undermined the power of judges and of parliament.
“Popular votes must not lead to that democracy makes itself absolute, but elements of direct and indirect democracy must control each other in representative political systems. In case of the enforcement initiative, a clear majority of citizens recognised the popular demands against foreigners articulated by the Swiss People’s Party. They opted for a strong and sound democracy”, states Kaufmann.
The SVP launched the citizens’ initiative “For the enforcement of the deportation of foreign criminals” (the “Enforcement Initiative”) in 2012, after a majority (52.9%) of Swiss voters had approved the earlier SVP “Deportation of Foreign Criminals Initiative” on 28 November 2010. That initiative committed the Swiss Parliament to implementing the new constitutional provisions (requiring an amendment to the existing laws) within a time frame of five years. But the right-wing SVP did not want to wait so long and launched the “Enforcement Initiative” while the parliament was still debating the implementation of the “Deportation Initiative”. Meanwhile, in March 2015, the Swiss Parliament implemented the “Deportation Initiative”. Hence, since the rejection of the Enforcement Initiative on 28 February, the “Deportation Initiative” will now be in power, detailing when foreigners convicted of a criminal crime will be deported.
Other popular votes
On 28 February, Swiss citizens also voted on three other issues. The “For marriage and the family - against the penalty of marriage” initiative launched by the Christian Democrats stated that marriage should not be disadvantaged by comparison with other forms of cohabitation and seeks to have the definition of marriage in the constitution restricted to partnerships between heterosexuals. This initiative was rejected with 50.8 per cent. The “No speculation on food” initiative launched by the Young Socialists demanded a ban on financial speculation in Switzerland in respect of agricultural raw materials and foodstuffs. This initiative was also declined (with 59,9%). Finally, the proposed upgrading of the road transit provisions through the Gotthard, already approved by Parliament, found approval. 57 per cent of voters opted in favor.
What do we mean by “the rule of law” - or by the concept of a state “based on the rule of law”? And what is the relationship between democracy and the rule of law? When is it possible to say that in a specific country with a system based on the rule of law its ‘rule-of-law’ basis is threatened? Democracy International has shed some light on these questions in a background paper. The paper also includes questions aimed at facilitating an empirical assessment of a given “rule of law” state. The paper can be downloaded below.