Regional ‘burqa ban’ up for vote in Switzerland

People walk by electoral posters of the committee against the facilitated naturalization, reading “Uncontrolled Naturalization? No”, with the illustration of a woman wearing a burka at a train station in Zurich in this February 7, 2017 photo. (AFP)
Updated 21 September 2018
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Regional ‘burqa ban’ up for vote in Switzerland

  • Switzerland’s government last year opposed an initiative aimed at creating a nationwide burqa ban

GENEVA: A second Swiss canton will vote Sunday on whether to introduce a regional “burqa ban,” a controversial law that would prohibit all face-covering garments in public spaces.
The ballot in northeastern St. Gallen is to be held as voters across the country also determine whether a moratorium on genetically modified crops should become a full-out ban.
St. Gallen is expected to follow the example of the southern canton of Ticino, where a law was introduced two years ago which appeared to be aimed at burqas and other Muslim veils.
A text stipulating that “any person who renders themselves unrecognizable by covering their face in a public space, and thus endangers public security or social and religious peace will be fined” was adopted by lawmakers in St. Gallen late last year.
That law passed the regional parliament with support from the populist right and center parties — but the issue is being put to the people after the Green Party and Young Socialists demanded a referendum.
The text, first drafted following uproar in the canton over a girl who wore a full-face veil to school, is problematic, according to Fredy Fassler, a socialist in charge of security and justice in St. Gallen.
It does not define when a woman wearing a burqa constitutes a danger, and critics “worry the sanctions will be unpredictable and arbitrary,” he told daily newspaper Le Temps.
Switzerland’s government last year opposed an initiative aimed at creating a nationwide burqa ban, saying it should be up to the regions to determine if such measures are appropriate.
All Swiss voters will eventually cast ballots on the issue after the populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party gathered the 100,000 signatures needed to put any subject to a referendum as part of Switzerland’s famous direct democratic system.
At the national level, the Swiss will vote Sunday on two schemes linked to agriculture and food security, urging a shift toward more environmentally friendly and Swiss-based food production.
The “Fair Food” and “Food Sovereignty” initiatives appear set to fail and are opposed by the canton of Bern, which warns they could send prices skyrocketing and might violate Switzerland’s international trade obligations.
Stefan Legge, an international trade expert at the University of St. Gallen, agreed with the government’s opposition to the initiatives.
“The agricultural lobby is trying hard to isolate itself from the rest of the economy and international competition,” he said.
The “Food Sovereignty” initiative, which has the backing of Switzerland’s powerful farmers’ union, calls for a range of measures, including turning a moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMO) into a total ban.
That moratorium was introduced after a 2005 referendum and has been extended three times to date. It is due to expire in 2021.
Polls indicate people widely oppose GMO use in the country, but despite early signs of support, the initiative looks doomed to fail, according to a survey published this month by the Tamedia group.
Observers put the initiative’s shrinking popularity down to another element baked into the text: the call for imports to be limited to food produced under the same social and environmental norms as those applicable in Switzerland.
“No serious analyst can say it is the GMO ban that is sinking the initiative,” Michelle Zufferey of the Uniterre union said.
She pointed out that the GMO aspect had barely been mentioned.
“It is the fake arguments about massive price hikes and a lack of choice and about efforts to isolate Switzerland that have hurt our initiative,” she insisted.
Swiss President Alain Berset himself warned in a recent interview with Le Temps that if the initiatives were to become law, it would “lead to a price hike.”
“For now, unfortunately, everyone cannot afford organic,” he said.
He also warned that “imposing Swiss standards on imported food goods would violate agreements reached with our trading partners as well as World Trade Organization rules.”


ASEAN may be forced to choose between US, China: Cambodia PM’s son

Updated 21 November 2018
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ASEAN may be forced to choose between US, China: Cambodia PM’s son

  • Cambodia has become an unlikely staging ground for geopolitical influence in Asia
  • The economic ripples of the trade spat between China and the US could destabilize global supply chain links in Southeast Asia

BANGKOK: Southeast Asian nations may soon have to “choose sides” between the US and China in their ongoing trade war, the political heir to Cambodia’s strongman ruler Hun Sen warned Wednesday in rare public comments.
Impoverished Cambodia has become an unlikely staging ground for geopolitical influence in Asia.
In recent years it has turned into a key China ally, heading off criticism of the superpower over its claims to disputed seas in exchange for billions of dollars in investment and loans.
While China has cozied up to Cambodia, the United States and the European Union have admonished Hun Sen, the nation’s ruler for 33 years, for his increasingly authoritarian rule.
In a rare speech outside of his country, his son, Hun Many warned the US-China trade spat may create lasting divisions in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“Perhaps one day ASEAN would have to choose between US or China,” Hun Many said in Bangkok.
“How would we see the trade war spill or expanded in other areas? Surely it will pressure individual members of ASEAN or ASEAN as a whole to choose sides.”
The economic ripples of the trade spat between China and the US could destabilize global supply chain links in Southeast Asia, while a slump in Chinese spending would impact its trading partners.
Cambodia’s strongman Hun Sen has welcomed Chinese investment to pump-prime his country’s economy.
At the same time, he has accused the US of trying to foment revolution in Cambodia by supporting his critics.
Both the US and EU decried the July elections, which were held without a credible opposition and gave Hun Sen another term in power.
When asked which of the superpowers Cambodia would side with, the Australian-educated Hun Many demurred.
“At the end of the day, it depends on those who are involved to take a more responsible approach for their decisions that affects the entire world,” he said.
Earlier this week, Hun Sen swatted away concerns that Beijing will construct a naval base off the southwest coast of Cambodia, which would provide ready access to the disputed South China Sea.
Beijing claims most of the flashpoint area, infuriating the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan who all have competing claims to its islands and potentially resource-rich waters.
Hun Many, who described himself as a “proud son,” is widely believed to be in the running to one day replace his father.
His elder brother, Manit, is the head of a military intelligence unit while Manet, the oldest, was promoted in September to the chief of joint staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces as well as the commander of the infantry army headquarters.
But Many brushed aside the notion.
“It is way too soon to say that I am in the next generation of leaders,” he said.