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A look at unusual past referendums in Switzerland

November 23, 2018

FILE - In this Oct. 19, 2009 file photo cows_some with some without horns_stand in snow, at 1245 meters above sea level in Gaebris, Appenzell, Switzerland. Swiss will decide on Sunday whether to ban farmers from removing cow horns. (Ennio Leanza/Keystone via AP)

GENEVA (AP) — Unlike other countries, Switzerland regularly gives its voters a direct say on issues large and small, and sometimes outlandish or quirky.

Sunday’s referendum on whether to subsidize farmers who don’t de-horn their cows and goats might qualify among the latter.

To get a referendum on the ballot requires lining up 100,000 signatures, and such votes can happen several times a year. Some proposals are the work of activist groups that seek to raise awareness, even if victory eludes them.

Here’s a look at some other eyebrow-raising and unusual referendums in Switzerland’s recent history:

GOING FOR GOLD

In November 2014, more than three-fourths of voters rejected a proposal to require the Swiss central bank to hold a fifth of reserves in gold.

That would have forced the Swiss National Bank to buy massive amounts of gold within five years — likely causing its global price to jump.

ECOPOP

That same month, the “Ecopop” initiative sought to limit immigration to 0.2 percent of the total Swiss population of about 8 million — about 16,000 immigrants a year, or about one-fifth of the annual inflow at that time. It also sought to force Switzerland to devote a large chunk of its foreign aid to programs aimed at reducing population growth in poor countries.

That too was handily rejected by nearly three-quarters of voters.

HANDOUTS FOR ALL

In June 2016, voters decided on a proposal to ensure that all Swiss receive an “unconditional basic income” — guaranteed by the state. Experts estimated that a minimum of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,560) per month was needed for an individual to make ends meet in wealthy Switzerland, where private-sector health insurance is required by law, and the cost of living is sky-high.

Critics warned that the policy would explode the state budget, and they won: more than three-fourths of voters rejected the idea. Proponents acknowledged the idea was perhaps ahead of its time, and said they still got some momentum for a movement that could gain steam as robots and automation displaces human workers in the digital age.

ANIMAL ADVOCATES

In 2010, voters turned their paws down to a proposal to appoint special lawyers for animals that were abused by humans — extending nationwide a system in place in the largest Swiss city, Zurich. Proponents said it would have guaranteed representation for abused animals in court, and proper punishment for animal abusers. Foes cited cost concerns and already-tough Swiss laws on the matter.

ENOUGH OF DEMOCRACY ALREADY!

In 2012, voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to hold more even more referendums — specifically about international treaties.

A nationalist group who pushed the idea wanted voters to have an automatic say each time the government signed an important international agreement — especially with the European Union. Three fourths of voters rejected that one, too.

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