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    Youth Vote Key in Swiss Referendum on Non-Residents Standing for Public Office

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    The outcome of the referendum in the Swiss canton of Neuchatel on providing permanent non-Swiss residents with the right to stand in local elections will largely depend on the turnout of younger voters and foreigners with the right to cast ballots, president of the Green-Liberal Party in the Neuchatel parliament, Mauro Moruzzi, told Sputnik.

    MOSCOW (Sputnik) — His comments come amid the launch of a civil promotion campaign that started this week in support of giving permanent non-Swiss residents of Neuchatel the right to be elected to cantonal-level government bodies ahead of the referendum on the issue scheduled to be held on September 25.

    "The result may depend on the participation of the younger voters and the non-national electors themselves, since they already have the right to vote. Usually, these two categories participate far less in polls (10 to 20 percent participation) than elderly Swiss citizens (over 50 to 60 percent). The former are obviously going to vote much more in favor of the law than the latter," Mauro Moruzzi, who supports the initiative, said.

    According to the lawmaker, should the initiative be approved, an additional 23,000 residents out of the adult population of 170,000 would be eligible to stand for public office.

    "Since our political life is based on a non-professional, militia system, it is getting more and more difficult to motivate competent candidates to run for elections: the recruitment basin would therefore be significantly extended," he further explained.

    The lawmaker added, that getting more political rights may also prompt more local residents without Swiss passports to apply for Swiss citizenship — an option that many foreigners now refuse due "to pretty long and sometimes humiliating procedure, than can be also fairly costly, even if you were born in the country."

    "With a birth rate of 1.2%, Switzerland can compensate its demographic deficit only with a successful immigration and integration policy," he concluded.

    Meanwhile, Philippe Haeberli, a lawmaker from the largest party in the local parliament — The Radical Liberal Party — told Sputnik on Friday that the possibility of more non-Swiss locals getting Swiss passports and obtaining the same rights as Swiss citizens was the reason why his party was urging voters to reject the proposition.

    Since there are no opinion polls on the issue, both lawmakers admitted it is difficult to predict the result of the referendum.

    "The voting will take place in September in a particular context influenced by the events happening in the world (terror attacks, increase of refugees, etc.) and the financial difficulties of the canton… I think this proposal will be rejected by the people," Philippe Haeberli stated.

    Mauro Moruzzi also acknowledged "that the overall climate of fear and insecurity will probably lead to a renewed rejection" of the initiative in the upcoming referendum, but stressed that the latest international developments mentioned by Haeberli "by no means relate with the actual topic," since the foreigners living in the canton are mostly EU-citizens, who were born or raised in Neuchatel and have been living there for decades.

    The French-speaking canton of Neuchatel has been the most progressive in terms of extending civic rights to foreigners, who constitute a quarter of all Switzerland's seven million residents.  Foreigners living in this Western canton have been allowed to vote in communal elections for over 150 years, and in 2000 they were granted the right to vote at cantonal level. In 2007, in another referendum, non-locals were given the right to stand in elections at a municipal level, but were denied this right at the cantonal level.

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