Swiss voters voted narrowly against pension reforms in a triple referendum held today, while giving overwhelming support to proposals to improve the country’s food security.
The failure of the pension reforms, which would have been financed by an increase in Value Added Tax (VAT), is yet another defeat for attempts to address this controversial topic – the last changes to the pension system were made in 1997. Six years of debate had preceded parliamentary approval for the reforms in March, but voters rejected them by 53 to 47 per cent. The supporting VAT hike was also turned down, although by a wafer-thin margin of just 2,300 votes out of more than 1.25 million cast.
The vote on food security, while very clear with nearly 79 per cent in favour, is unlikely to lead to immediate policy change. Instead, provisions aimed at making Swiss agriculture more sustainable and supporting local production, while at the same time reducing subsidies, will be written into the constitution. The measures had their origin in a Volksinitiative or grassroots petition.
The pension reform results were in contrast to the two opinion polls carried out during the campaign for Swiss Broadcasting by GFS Bern, both of which showed majorities in favour of change. However with the lead for YES shrinking from 11 points in the 18 August poll to just 6 points by 13 September, the momentum towards NO was also apparent. The surveys did anticipate a clear victory for the food security campaigners, with a 49-point lead for YES given in the 13 September poll.
Turnout in the referenda was 46 per cent, in line with most recent plebiscites, with the perceived importance of the pensions debate failing to stimulate additional participation. In the September opinion poll, some 53 per cent of respondents had assured GFS they would be certain to vote.
1. Food security decree
(proposal 613, Federal decree of 14.03.2017)
YES 1,942, 931 (78.7 per cent)
NO 524,875 (21.3 per cent)
Turnout 46.0 per cent
2. Increase in VAT to provide extra financing for the pension system
(proposal 614, Federal decree of 17.03.2017)
YES 1,254,675 (50.0 per cent)
NO 1,257,032 (50.0 per cent)
Turnout 46.8 per cent
3. Approval of the ‘Pension Reform 2020’
(proposal 615, Federal law of 17.03.2017)
YES 1,186, 079 (47.3 per cent)
NO 1,320,830 (52.7 per cent)
Turnout 46.7 per cent
Data source: Swiss government official website. ‘Vorlaeufige amtliches Endergebnisse’ from 24.09.2017. Full breakdown of results by canton here.
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