Polls indicate a small majority supports the measure, in a vote that comes after years of debate following similar bans in other European countries and in some Muslim-majority states.
Despite the fact that the proposal “Yes to the prohibition of completely covering the face” does not mention the burqa or the niqab, which leaves the eyes uncovered, there is no doubt as to what concerns the debate.
Campaign Posters Saying “Stop Radical Islam!” and “Stop Extremism!” featuring a woman in a black niqab, have spread through Swiss cities.
SEE ALSO: Polls Show Support for Burqa Ban
Rival posters said: “No to an absurd, useless and Islamophobic ‘anti-burqa’ law.”
The ban would mean that no one would be able to fully cover their face in public, whether in stores or out in the open.
There would be exceptions, even for places of worship.
“Besides being unhelpful, this text is racist and sexist,” said Ines El-Shikh, a spokeswoman for the feminist Muslim women’s group Purple Headscarves.
He told AFP that the proposed law created the impression of a problem, but “there are only 30 burqa-clad women in Switzerland.”
A 2019 Federal Statistical Office survey found that 5.5 percent of the Swiss population were Muslims, mostly with roots in the former Yugoslavia.
‘Extreme’ concerns about Islam
The full veil “is an extreme form of Islam,” said Yes campaign spokesman Jean-Luc Addor of the populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP).
He acknowledged that “fortunately” there are not many women with burqas in Switzerland, but stressed that “when there is a problem, we fix it before it gets out of control.”
The government and parliament oppose a nationwide ban.
His counterproposal, which is triggered automatically if the initiative is rejected, would require people to show their faces to authorities if necessary for identification, for example at borders.
Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, any issue can be put to a national vote as long as it gathers 100,000 signatures in the wealthy country of 8.6 million people.
Voting rounds take place every three months.
To pass, the initiatives require the support of a majority of voters nationwide and a majority of the 26 federal cantons in Switzerland, six of which count as half of the cantons in votes.
A 2009 vote banning the construction of minaret towers in mosques sparked anger abroad.
Indonesia trade, electronic identification votes
Two more votes will take place on Sunday.
One is about the free trade agreement signed between Switzerland and Indonesia.
Tariffs would be phased out of almost all of Switzerland’s largest exports to the world’s fourth most populous country, while Switzerland would remove tariffs on Indonesian industrial products.
Opponents, who are especially critical of the Berne measure to reduce import tariffs on palm oil, successfully won a popular vote on the deal.
A February poll for Tamedia newspapers found that 52 percent supported the deal and 42 percent were against it.
The other vote is on a government plan to introduce a federally recognized electronic identity, which could be used to order goods and services online.
The idea is that the e-ID is regulated by law, offering a degree of security and reliability when giving identity data on the Internet. It can also be used to open a bank account or request an official document.
Recent polls suggest that a comfortable majority oppose the measure. It was put to a popular vote by critics alarmed by the plan to rely on private companies for identifications, giving them access to confidential and private information.
Although most of the votes will have been cast in advance, polling stations will be open for a few hours on Sunday.
Polling stations will close at noon (1100 GMT) and initial results are expected in the early afternoon.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism