GENEVA — Swiss voters approved a move to ban the construction of minarets in a Sunday vote on a right-wing initiative that labeled the mosque towers as symbols of militant Islam, projections by a widely respected polling institute showed.The minarets issue as described by SwissInfo.ch on oct. 9, 2009
The projections based on partial returns say Swiss swung from only 37 percent supporting the proposal a week ago to 59 percent in the actual voting.
Claude Longchamp, leader of the widely respected gfs.bern polling institute, said the projection contracted by state-owned DRS television forecasts approval of the initiative by more than half the country’s 26 cantons, meaning it will become a constitutional amendment.
The nationalist Swiss People’s Party describes minarets, the distinctive spires used in most countries for calls to prayer, as symbols of rising Muslim political and religious power that could eventually turn Switzerland into an Islamic nation.
Muslims make up about 6 percent of Switzerland’s 7.5 million people. Many Swiss Muslims are refugees from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Fewer than 13 percent practice their religion, the government says, and Swiss mosques do not broadcast the call to prayer outside their buildings.
Minaret ban approved, early results show
The gfs.bern polling institute said an estimated 58 per cent of voters had backed the initiative. A majority of cantons were also in support of a minaret ban.
Turnout was high at around 55 per cent.
The result, if confirmed, comes as a major surprise and a slap in the face of the government. Opinion polls ahead of the vote had predicted the ban would be rejected by 53 per cent of the electorate.
The proposal on banning minaret construction was championed by rightwing and ultra-conservative groups. The government and most political parties as well as churches and the business community came out strongly against it.
To be approved, it needed the backing of a majority of both voters and cantons.
The director of gfs.bern told Swiss French television that the issue by the end of the campaign was not minarets, but the position of Muslims in Switzerland.
Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf had argued strongly against a ban on minaret construction.
“The initiative is a kind of ‘proxy war’. Its supporters say they are against minarets. But they want to fight what they consider creeping Islamicisation and sharia law,” she said ahead of the vote.
Opponents warned that approval of the proposal would fuel Islamic extremism and damage Switzerland’s image abroad, particularly in the Muslim world.
Supporters of a ban argued minarets are a symbol of an Islamic claim to power.
“The Islamic religion is intolerant, but we do not want to limit freedom of religion, we want to outlaw the political symbol,” says Ulrich Schlüer, a member of the rightwing Swiss People’s party and one of the leading promoters of the anti-minaret initiative.
The group says it is time to act now before Christian values are undermined and violence flares in Muslim ghettoes as in neighbouring European states.