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Moutier Separatist vote declared invalid in Swiss town

Happy voter

Good while it lasted: pro-Jura voters celebrate on June 18, 2017


A vote in Moutier, which last year saw the Swiss town switch allegiance from canton Bern to canton Jura, has been declared void. The authorities are investigating claims of “electoral tourism” which allegedly manipulated the result of the vote in June 2017.

A top district official on Monday ruled that six out of seven legal complaints over misleading propaganda and organisational flaws were justified.

The decision prompted emotional reaction.

The pro-Jura separatist movement said the decision had been taken for “political reasons” and vowed to fight against the vote reversal. It announced street protests . 

The canton Bern authorities stated that the vote annulment now made it impossible to negotiate the town’s transference to Jura. “It is regrettable that irregularities and undemocratic behaviour were possible despite this extraordinary arrangement,” the statement read.

Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga for her part  said in a statementexternal link she had taken note of the decision by the governing body of the Bernese Jura. She said she hoped people would react to the decision with composure and called for calm.

Sommaruga pointed out that the decision could be appealed.

Close decision

On June 18, 2017, voters in Moutier decided in favour of Jura by 137 votes. A total of 4,000 citizens took part in the ballot with an unusually high turnout of 88%. But the vote aroused suspicions that some people had registered themselves as eligible voters in Moutier without actually residing there.

These suspicions were raised with the federal authorities, leading to an investigation.

The controversy is the latest twist in a long-running territorial dispute in Switzerland. French-speaking Jura became the 26th Swiss canton in 1979 when a separatist movement won a vote to secede from German-speaking canton Bern. Since then, the question has been raised in some towns and villages along the border about which canton they would like to be part of. 

Democratic summer Why Moutier matters more than Brexit

The democratic potential of public votes depends on the legal design and political context as shown in two examples in Britain and Switzerland.

Keystone-SDA/mga, urs

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