Switzerland is voting in a double referendum that is likely to have a significant effect on the country’s image abroad.
The first measure to be voted on is whether to ban the construction of minarets. The populist Swiss People’s Party has put forward the proposal – Switzerland has four mosques with minarets and two more are planned. The populist right says the minarets are an affront to the national culture; opponents of a proposed ban say it would be an affront to freedom of religion. Switzerland is home to some 400 000 muslims, around one in eight of whom actively practice their religion. A second motion calls for a ban on the sale of military weapons to countries at war. Switzerland’s arms exports represent some 477 million euros each year, and the industry argues any such ban would cost 10,000 jobs. “Overnight our internationally competitive security and military industry would no longer have access to world markets,” argued member of parliament Hansjorg Walter. Proponents say a ban would be in keeping with the nation’s tradition of neutrality. Tom Cassee of the Group for Switzerland without arms” said: “Each weapon we export is not in our control and we do not know in whose hands they will end up, therefore we cannot be sure that innocent people won’t die, and we want to avoid that.” They argue job losses could be compensated by investment in areas such as renewable energy. The Swiss government is against the arms ban proposal.