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AFP
March 8, 2021

Swiss ‘burqa ban’ vote on a knife-edge

World

AFP
March 8, 2021

GENEVA: Switzerland voted on Sunday on whether to ban full facial coverings in public places, with the result on a knife-edge, according to early projections.

After the polling stations closed at midday (1100 GMT), public broadcaster SSR and pollsters gfs.bern both projected that 51 percent had voted in favour of the ban. In parallel votes, a trade deal with Indonesia seemed set to be narrowly accepted, while a plan for a state-backed electronic identity looked on course to be rejected, according to projections.

The anti-burqa vote comes after years of debate in Switzerland following similar bans in other European countries -- and in some Muslim-majority states -- despite women in Islamic full-face veils being an exceptionally rare sight in Swiss streets.

Even though the proposal "Yes to a ban on full facial coverings" did not mention the burqa or the niqab -- which leaves the eyes uncovered -- there was no doubt as to what the debate was about. Campaign posters reading "Stop radical Islam!" and "Stop extremism!", featuring a woman in a black niqab, have been plastered around Swiss cities.

The ban would mean that nobody could cover their face completely in public -- whether in shops or the open countryside. But there would be exceptions, including for places of worship. A 2019 Federal Statistical Office survey found that 5.5 percent of the Swiss population were Muslims, mostly with roots in the former Yugoslavia. The government and parliament opposed a nationwide ban.

Their counter-proposal -- automatically triggered if the initiative is rejected -- would require people to show their faces to the authorities if necessary for identification, such as at borders.