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Voters in Switzerland reject plans to hoard gold, limit immigration

A ballot box is emptied at a voting centre in Zurich, Switzerland, Sunday Nov. 30, 2014.
A ballot box is emptied at a voting centre in Zurich, Switzerland, Sunday Nov. 30, 2014. AP Photo/Keystone, Walter Bieri

BERN, Switzerland – Voters in Switzerland on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected three citizen-backed proposals to protect the country’s wealth by investing in gold, drastically limit immigration and eliminate a special tax that draws rich foreigners.

The separate proposals – put to voters nationwide by conservative politicians, ecologists and a liberal group – had needed a majority of voters and Switzerland’s 26 cantons (states) to pass. All generated headlines within and beyond the small but influential Alpine nation.

The proposal to require the Swiss central bank to hold a fifth of its reserves in gold was opposed by 77.3 per cent of voters and supported by nearly 22.7 per cent, according to final results from Swiss broadcaster SRF. It would have forced the Swiss National Bank to buy massive amounts of gold within five years, likely causing its global price to jump.

“After this clear decision by the people, there are no further grounds to pursue another similar initiative,” one of the three parliamentarians behind the proposal, Luzi Stamm, told Swiss broadcaster SRF.

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But he said the campaign had at least raised awareness of the central bank’s shortcomings.

The proposal to limit immigration to 0.2 per cent of Switzerland’s population – about 16,000 immigrants a year for a country of 8 million – received the backing of 25.9 per cent of voters, while 74.1 per cent opposed it. None of the cantons came out in favour. Currently, immigration is estimated at around 80,000 a year.

The “Ecopop” initiative would also have forced Switzerland to devote a large chunk of its foreign aid to programs aimed at reducing population growth in poor countries.

Andreas Thommen, a Green Party member who oversaw the campaign, told SRF it had been “a David and Goliath battle” against the establishment, and Switzerland “missed the opportunity to set the course for a sustainable future.”

A third national referendum, which would have abolished special tax discounts for rich foreigners living in Switzerland, was also defeated. About 59.2 per cent voted against the measure, while 40.8 per cent were in favour of it, and only one of the country’s 26 cantons said yes to getting rid of a flat tax rate that helps attract the super wealthy.

Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.