A woman wearing a burqa in Vevey. Photo: erix3005/Depositphotos
The Swiss may get the chance to vote on the introduction of a nationwide ban on the burqa after campaigners from the so-called Egerkingen committee succeeded in gathering the required number of signatures to push the issue to a referendum.
In March 2016 the committee launched a popular initiative to ban the burqa and other full-face coverings and had until this month to gather the 100,000 signatures required under the Swiss system of direct democracy to push it to a public vote.
On Wednesday Swiss People’s Party (SVP) MP Walter Wobmann, a leading member of the committee and a long-time advocate of a burqa ban, announced they had succeeded two days before the deadline.
Just over a week ago the campaign only had 82,000 signatures, according to the website of the committee, which launched a last-ditch appeal for more signatures.
Speaking to the Tribune de Genève on Wednesday, Wobmann conceded that it was a close-run thing.
“It was tight. We are a small committee… we were lacking people to help us gather the signatures,” he told the paper.
According to the Luzerner Zeitung the campaign was aided by a 76-year-old man from Willisau in the canton of Lucerne who managed to gather 9,700 signatures all by himself.
The committee’s eventual success means the initiative can now be lodged with the Swiss federal government. If all is found to be in order, it will go to a public vote.
The issue has been on the political table in Switzerland since the canton of Ticino voted in favour of a ban in a cantonal vote in 2013. The ban – which forbids the wearing of the Islamic face veil (niqab), full-length burqa and other full face coverings in public places – came into force in July 2016, with those who flout it liable for fines of up to 10,000 francs.
But since then only a few fines have been issued, including one for a Swiss woman who flouted the ban in deliberate protest.
Enthusiasm for a ban elsewhere in the country has been lukewarm.
In May this year the canton of Glarus voted against imposing a burqa ban.
And in March the Swiss senate quashed a draft bill on the subject – also lodged by Wobmann – after it was narrowly approved by the lower house.
In rejecting it, senators said there were so few people wearing burqas in Switzerland that there was no need to legislate for a problem that does not exist.
Speaking to the Tribune on Wednesday, Wobmann, who led the successful campaign against the building of minarets in Switzerland and in 2015 called for certain Muslim refugees to be banned from entering the country, said: “Even if there are only a few cases today, there will be more in the future, that’s certain. It’s better to act too early than too late. We must send a strong signal against this symbol of oppression and radicalism.”
If the ban does make it to a public vote, it may be successful. A 2016 survey found that 70 percent of people were in favour of a nationwide ban.
Wobmann told the paper he was “convinced it will be accepted”.