BERLIN (AP) – Swiss voters on Sunday delivered their verdict on a proposal to ban face coverings, both the niqabs and burqas worn by some Muslim women in the country and the balaclavas and scarves worn by protesters. A projection after the polls closed pointed to a very close result.
The measure would ban face covering in public places such as restaurants, sports stadiums, public transportation, or simply walking down the street. There would be exceptions at religious sites and for safety or health reasons, such as the face masks that people now wear to protect themselves against COVID-19, as well as for traditional Carnival celebrations. The authorities would have two years to draft detailed legislation.
The Swiss government opposes the measure, saying that people covering their faces is a “fringe” issue. She argues that the move could harm tourism: Most Muslim women who wear such veils in Switzerland are visitors from wealthy Persian Gulf states, often drawn to Swiss lakeside cities. And he says he would not help the affected women.
Instead, he supports demanding that people show their faces if the authorities request it.
Supporters of the proposal, which will be put to a vote five years after its launch and is known colloquially as the “burqa ban,” argue that the full-face covers symbolize repression of women and say the measure is necessary to uphold a basic principle that faces should be shown in a free society like that of Switzerland.
A projection for the national public broadcaster SRG after the polls closed placed support for the proposal at 51%, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Polls leading up to the referendum had suggested that support had eroded in recent weeks and a close result was expected. The proposals need a majority of voters and cantons to be approved in Switzerland’s frequent referendums.
Two of the 26 cantons or states of Switzerland, Ticino and St. Gallen, already have similar legislation that provides for fines for infractions. National legislation would bring Switzerland in line with countries like Belgium and France that have already enacted similar measures.
Sponsors include the nationalist Swiss People’s Party, which is the strongest in parliament and backed previous measures such as a ban on the construction of new minarets that voters approved in 2009.
On this occasion, a coalition of left-wing parties that opposes the proposal has put up posters that read: “Absurd. Useless. Islamophobic “.