Swiss reject proposal to scrap military draft, with 73 percent voting against
AFPGENEVA -- Swiss voters on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected a referendum calling for an end to the country's military draft, with 73 percent casting ballots against the plan, exit polls showed.
September 23, 2013, 12:03 am TWN
In a country whose part-time army is ingrained in the national image — and seen abroad as Swiss as cheese, chocolate and Heidi — voters bucking a post-Cold War European trend against conscription was no surprise.
But the exit polls by the gfs.bern institute for public broadcaster RTS showed that opposition to the plan was a full 10 percent higher than forecast over recent days.
Armed neutrality has been the cornerstone of Switzerland's defense policy for almost two centuries, with soldiers straddling the civilian and military worlds, keeping their weapons at home when they are not in training.
“Abolishing military service would break the genuine link uniting the people and the army,” insisted Defense Minister Ueli Maurer ahead of Sunday's vote.
But there is also an anti-military undercurrent in Switzerland, which has not been invaded since the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century, despite major scares during World Wars I and II.
Direct democracy is another bedrock of Swiss society, and referenda are held several times a year on a range of federal and local issues.
Th exit polls showed that 27 percent of voters backed the anti-conscription plan Sunday, slightly down on the forecast score.
The anti-draft camp, spearheaded by pacifists and left-wing parties, had not expected victory Sunday, but had been eyeing a symbolic score of at least 30 percent.
They were mindful of their high point in 1989, the year the Iron Curtain fell, when a vote on abolishing the army outright mustered a surprising support of 36 percent. In 2001 they garnered 21 percent.
“Compulsory military service is a tool created for wars of the past,” said Tobias Schnebli of the anti-military group GSoA, telling AFP that a country in the heart of Europe faced no serious threat of invasion.