Switzerland goes to the polls this weekend to vote for the third time in two decades on whether to abolish compulsory military service.
Campaigners raised the 100,000 signatures necessary to force a referendum.
Opinion polls suggest they are likely to lose. A survey by gfs.bern for SRG SSR found that 63 percent of voters were ready to reject the initiative, with 31 percent in favour.
But the abolitionists are undeterred in their bid to end what they see as an anomaly in a country that has avoided war for two centuries.
“Not everyone has time to play war games”, reads one of the campaign posters.
“Military service has had its time, it’s no longer acceptable neither from a financial point of view nor in terms of security policy. A mass army is based on a traditional case for national defence, and this has become unrealistic,” said Evi Allemann, the Social Democrats’ National Security expert.
Leading the counter-charge is the defence minister, Ueli Maurer. He has won the backing of some multinational companies present on Swiss soil.
They have become convinced that military training is far better than that offered by business schools.
“(The alternative), an army of volunteers would be a lot worse, more expensive, it would have fewer skills and would not guarantee security because we don’t know whether there would be volunteers, whether they would come, when and how they would come… and we need an obligation to do military service,” Maurer said.
As the polls suggest, Switzerland remains attached to military service, spending six percent of its budget on defence.
Its 150,000-strong army outnumbers those of several other European countries – Austria, Belgium, Finland, Norway and Sweden – put together.
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