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Paternity leave, fighter jets on ballot as Swiss vote

24 Sep 2020 / 12:55 H.

GENEVA: The Swiss will vote on a number of issues Sunday, ranging from curbing immigration from the EU to purchasing new fighter jets and offering new fathers paid leave.

Here is an overview of the main issues on the ballot.

EU migrant curbs

The initiative, backed by the populist rightwing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and opposed by the government, argues that non-EU member Switzerland is facing “uncontrolled and excessive immigration”.

It calls on Bern to rip up a 1999 agreement with Brussels on the free movement of persons between Switzerland and the bloc.

Opinion polls indicate voters will likely reject the initiative over fears that it could throw Swiss relations with its biggest trading partner into disarray and hurt the Swiss economy.

Fighter jets

Switzerland has for more than a decade been caught in a political battle over whether to replace its aging fleet of fighter jets.

In 2014, the country looked set to purchase 22 Gripen E fighter jets from Swedish group Saab, only to see the people vote against releasing the funds needed for the multi-billion-dollar deal.

Bern insists Switzerland needs to upgrade its fleet.

The country’s F/A-18s will reach the end of their lifespan in 2030, while its even older fleet of F-5 Tiger jets are not even equipped for night flights.

To remedy the problem, the government has proposed releasing up to 6 billion Swiss francs (RM27 billion) for a new fleet of jets.

The Swiss parliament has already given its stamp of approval, but the people will have the final word Sunday, with opinion polls hinting the initiative should pass.

Opponents insist the small land-locked country, which has not seen armed conflict for centuries, has no need for “luxury fighter jets”, and should instead focus its resources on new threats like cyberattacks and climate change.

Supporters meanwhile insist Switzerland needs to defend its airspace, to ward off attacks and also to protect large international events like those organised at the United Nations’ European headquarters in Geneva.

Paternity leave

Switzerland, which did not grant women the right to vote until 1971, is considered quite traditional in terms of family models, and still lags behind much of Europe when it comes to parental leave.

The country introduced 14 weeks of paid maternity leave in 2005, but still offers no paternity leave.

In September last year, the Swiss parliament gave the green light to providing new fathers with two weeks of paid leave.

But the populist rightwing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and others opposed the decision and collected the necessary number of signatures to put the issue to the people.

If the initiative is accepted, those taking paternity leave would receive the same 80% of their salary, up to a ceiling of 196 Swiss francs per day, that mothers receive while on maternity leave.

Fathers could thus make a maximum of 2,744 Swiss francs (RM12,000) during their two weeks of leave.

All political parties except the SVP support the text, and recent opinion polls indicate more than 60% support among the public.

Hunting law reform

Voters are also being asked to back a revision of Switzerland’s hunting law, which parliament adopted last September in response to a rapidly growing wolf population in the country.

Like in other European countries, wolves are enjoying a revival in Switzerland, igniting a fierce debate between supporters and farmers who have lost livestock.

The revised law would ease hunting restrictions, but wolves would remain a protected species.

The current hunting law, which also covers the protection of wild species, dates back to 1986 — a time when not a single wolf remained in Switzerland.

The predators began returning to the landlocked Alpine country in 1995, and their population has now grown to around 80 individuals spread across eight packs.

Up to 500 sheep and goats are now killed or maimed by wolves each year, according to official data.

The Swiss cantons can currently authorise the culling of a wolf once it has been determined that it is responsible for significant damage.

The revised law would give the cantons more leeway to act preventively, and to kill the animals to avoid large livestock losses and to ensure wolves remain fearful of humans.

Wildlife preservation groups gathered the signatures needed to put the issue to the people, warning that the preventive culling of the creatures could jeopardise the species.

According to polls, the public appears split down the middle on the issue. — AFP

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