Campaign group Friends of the Constitution on Wednesday handed in a petition of 86,000 signatures collected over the past three months, well in excess of the 50,000 required, to formally initiate a nationwide vote to repeal the 2020 COVID-19 Act under Switzerland’s highly devolved democratic system.
The outcome will be legally binding, with a vote scheduled for as early as June.
While the pandemic has exposed social and political fractures across Europe over the rights of citizens, in Switzerland, where individuals’ rights are often treated as culturally sacrosanct and Government powers are sharply proscribed by law, the strains have become particularly evident.
“In our opinion, the [Government] is taking advantage of the pandemic to introduce more control and less democracy,” Christoph Pfluger, a board member of Friends of the Constitution, told the Financial Times.
He added: “The long-term problems that will arise from this kind of approach will be grave. We are a movement that says crisis management cannot be done without the will of the sovereign, the people. You cannot govern without the people.”
Mr Pfluger said Switzerland would be the first and perhaps the only country to give its citizens a direct vote on coronavirus restrictions.
Until late December, Bern’s governing Federal Council had been reluctant to impose restrictions during the second wave of the pandemic.
Staunch opposition from many Swiss to further curbs and dire warnings from several of the country’s most powerful and influential lobbying groups about the economic consequences of another shutdown forestalled action in the run-up to Christmas, even as case numbers rocketed.
A poll conducted by Switzerland’s Sotomo Research Institute for state broadcaster SRF in November found that 55% of Swiss were concerned about their individual freedoms being restricted by Government measures. The same survey found that even an 11pm curfew for bars and restaurants was considered too restrictive by a third of Swiss respondents.