Freelance writer Troy Wilkinson writes: As one of a sizable percentage of foreign citizens living in Switzerland, I'm pretty far removed from the machinations of the country's direct democracy. That being said, even to me it is still evident that, especially when compared to Australia, referendums form a central feature of the Swiss political landscape.
Three to four times each year the full spectrum of political parties trundle out clusters of posters in public areas in order to persuade the citizenry to make their voice heard at the upcoming polls according to each party's wishes, in what could best be described as the Swiss equivalent of a 'How to Vote' card. The issues up for popular voting can either be applicable to a federal, canton (equivalent to state) or local level, and if they pertain to minor proposals within education, health or taxation, the party posters are quite likely to be a simple encouragement to either vote 'Yes' or 'No'.
But when it comes to contentious issues, particularly at a national level, the posters go straight for the patriotic jugular. Parties' messages will be splashed across major billboards and the graphic design work gets a lot more emotive. Forget "be alert, not alarmed", if it could be at all perceived that the Swiss way of life might be in danger from outsiders, the parties on the fringe symbolically use the white cross on red of the Swiss flag in a wholehearted attempt to set alarm bells ringing in the heads of the electorate.
My personal favourite came before a referendum in late 2005, when voters were to decide whether Switzerland should join the Schengen Agreement, the European treaty on open borders. I don't ever recall knowing which political party produced this particular poster
, but it was the first attempt I'd seen at blatant scaremongering.
The Swiss flag had been rendered as a classic cartoon circle of tightly bound red sticks of dynamite, the fuse led away to a detonator box emblazoned with the blue background and yellow stars of the European Union, while a crazed cartoon man with unkempt hair and wild eyes gleefully jumped up and plunged down the detonator lever. Evidently the majority of Swiss voters found this as comical as I did, as they duly elected to join Norway as the second non-European Union member to become part of the Schengen Area.
Though it's not just the European Union (or their cronies in Brussels) who have been demonised. On other issues particular sections of the community within Switzerland itself have been targeted, and it is the Swiss People’s Party, one of four parties in a grand coalition that makes up the federal government, which has been the primary antagonist.