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Swiss back new citizenship rules in defeat for rightwing

Easy measures for immigrants to become citizens

OBERSAXEN: People count the votes in Obersaxen, Switzerland, yesterday. —AP

GENEVA: Swiss voters yesterday approved a measure to make it easier for third-generation immigrants to become citizens, crushing rightwing nationalists who had stoked fears about granting nationality to more Muslims. The “Yes” camp met the two criteria for a win by securing a majority of total votes and a majority of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, the public broadcaster RTS and national news agency ATS said. Fifty-nine percent voted “Yes,” according to provisional figures given by the polling institute gfs.bern, and at least 14 cantons were in favor, according to official results.

The government as well as most lawmakers and political parties supported the proposal. Under it, the grandchildren of immigrants will be able to skip several steps in the lengthy process of securing a Swiss passport. But the rightwing Swiss Peoples Party (SVP), the largest party in Switzerland’s parliament, fought against it by putting issues of Islam and national identity at the centre of the debate. Reacting to the defeat, SVP lawmaker Jean-Luc Addor said his side was “alone against everyone in this campaign”. “The problem of Islam, I’m afraid, it will catch up with us in a few years,” he told RTS.

According to a migration department study, less than 25,000 people in the country of about eight million currently qualify as third-generation immigrants, a definition meaning they have at least one grandparent who was born here or acquired Swiss residency. Nearly 60 percent of that group are Italians, followed by those with origins in the Balkans and Turkish nationals. Debate on the proposal had nothing to do with religion at the outset, said Sophie Guignard of the Institute of Political Science at the University of Bern.

It was the SVP, a party repeatedly accused of demonizing Islam, that focused on the risks of more Muslims becoming citizens and the possible “loss of Swiss values”, Guignard said. Yesterday’s referendum is one of four each year for voting on subjects affecting federal as well as local laws and institutions.

Poster controversy    
The “No2 camp faced heavy criticism over a widely-distributed poster showing a woman staring out from a black niqab with a tagline urging voters to reject “uncontrolled citizenship”. The SVP is not officially responsible for the poster. It was commissioned by the Committee Against Facilitated Citizenship, which has several SVP members and was co-chaired by Addor. Guignard said mainstream politicians and journalists viewed the poster as “a violent attack against Muslims”. Addor defended it again yesterday by saying its intent was to “affirm the identity of this country and the need to preserve it.”

Political initiatives that either directly or implicitly target Muslims may be on the rise in the West, notably including US President Donald Trump’s travel ban against seven mainly Muslim countries, which has now been rejected by two US federal courts. The SVP in 2009 successfully persuaded Swiss voters to approve a ban on new mosque minaret construction, while religiously-charged messages have been a part of multiple referendums on immigration since.–AFP

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