English > Swiss referenum on arms exports: The results

Results of the Referendum on Arms Exports

On November 29, 2009, the Swiss people had the opportunity to vote to stop the export of arms. 31.8 % of the electorate decided to say yes to our proposition to ban all arms exports. This result is what about we expected a few months ago, but it’s less than what we hoped for after the latest polls.

The voting day is worsened by the unexpected result of the other referendum on the ballot yesterday: As you might have read in the press, the Swiss decided to accept a ban to construct new minarets. The polls had predicted that only 39% of the voters would back this xenophobic and utterly absurd initiative (there are only 4 minarets in Switzerland and no plans to build many more.) It’s hard not to think about emigrating from this country in these days…

There are a few reasons for the relatively clear majority against the export ban. All pundits agree that the economic situation made it much easier for the arms industry lobby to promote their job fear campaign. Of course, our financial means were much lower than theirs (roughly 10 times lower), which allowed them to advertise for people in rural places that we simply couldn’t. Further, our main political opponent in many debates was the very popular centrist minister of economic affairs. Although we could cast some doubts about her policies, she probably was able to convince many female centrist voters, which likely were the “swing voters” in this campaign. In addition, the minaret campaign obviously managed to mobilize the right wing voters in an unexpected and unprecedented fashion, which was detrimental for our result.

While we could convince only one third of the voters overall, we were much better in the urban areas: Out of the 5 largest cities, we have won Geneva, Berne and Lausanne and missed the majority in Zurich and Basle only by a few percents. Probably, the younger voters were much more favorable to our initiative than the older ones (Though, this will be definitive only after the results of the post-election polls are published in a few weeks.)

Still, we consider the arms export campaign a success. The public debate ahead of the vote was very intense in all newspapers. We have distributed 400’000 leaflets, which is about one for every tenth eligible voter. Hundreds of people became active in one way or the other during the campaign; many of them were involved in politics for the first time. When we started in 2005, many average people weren’t aware that Switzerland actually exports arms. This definitively has changed.

We will continue to look very closely at how the government handles arms exports. Especially, we will see if the minister of economic affairs holds her promise not to grant any new export licenses to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Thanks for all your support that made this encouraging campaign possible!