Misinformation has been a recurring feature in the battle for votes on highly charged issues like naturalisation and tax reforms, landing some campaigners in hot water.
Looking at the most-talked about image of the current campaign, a Swiss voter might be inclined to think Muslim immigrants would be the main beneficiaries of a proposal to ease citizenship procedures for so-called third-generation foreigners. That seems to be the message of a poster, launched by a committee opposed to the initiative, featuring a woman in a burka and the phrase, “Uncontrolled naturalisation?”
The poster been roundly criticised for its inaccurate portrayal of reality. It’s just one of several examples of Swiss politicians creating their own “alternative facts” – a phrase used by an adviser to US President Donald Trump to dispute audience size at his inauguration – ahead of nationwide polls set for 12 February on naturalisation and other hot-button issues.
One burka too many
Soon after the poster was launched, news outlets and social media users wasted no time checking the facts. They pointed to a studycommissioned by the State Secretariat for Migration, which found that 58% of people eligible for the facilitated procedure – chiefly the grand-children of immigrants – are Italian.
But the campaigners have staunchly defended their approach. Although the Swiss People’s Party says it’s not responsible for the poster, its members sit on the committee opposing the proposal. The poster follows a well-oiled strategy to form simple, populist campaign narratives that have helped the People’s Party to win votes since the 1990s. These narratives often play on fears about future threats to Swiss identity and social cohesion.
One People’s Party parliamentarian summed up the latest message at a campaign stop.
“This poster is simply stating that, one day, the people concerned – the large cohorts – will no longer be the Italians, but they might potentially be people like this,” said Jean-Luc Addor, his finger on the burka poster, in a clip that aired on French-language Swiss public television (RTS).
The study estimated a total of 24,655 people would be eligible for the procedure today, though experts believe only a small proportion would apply for citizenship. As others have noted, the only Muslim-majority countries among the main nationalities concerned are Turkey (9%) – from which immigration to Switzerland has been in steady decline for the past decade – and Kosovo (3.9%). In neither country is wearing the burka a prevalent custom. If the proposal is approved, the number of Muslims applying for facilitated naturalisation would be modest at best.
But some People’s Party politicians have gone further, suggesting jihadists could well gain citizenship. The youth arm of the People’s Party in canton Schwyz has even put this claim in poster form. Yet supporting a terrorist group or other criminal organisation is actually unlawful in Switzerland, and eligibility for citizenship includes respecting the law and not posing a threat to national or international security. Last year the Federal Criminal Court even upheld a decision by the authorities to confiscate the Swiss passport of an alleged jihadist with dual nationality.
In a separate campaign flyer, the People’s Party – the only major party to oppose the citizenship initiative – has pushed another claim: that Switzerland naturalises more residents than neighbouring countries. The flyer shows a graphic that omits among others Luxembourg which, according to Eurostat figures, issues more passports per total number of inhabitants than any other European country.
Distorting images and words has landed another group of campaigners in hot water. The Swiss Federation of Small and Medium Enterprises released a flyer that portrays five politicians from the left who oppose new corporate tax reforms as being supporters of the proposed changes.