The spectre of religious and racial intolerance was raised over Switzerland last night as a majority of voters backed a deeply controversial proposal to ban the building of minarets at mosques in a referendum that instilled fear among Muslims and shocked the Swiss government.
The result, which followed a series of unprecedented stone-throwing attacks on mosques, astounded political observers as it was the opposite of what opinion polls had been predicting for months ahead of the plebiscite initiated and partly organised by the ultra-conservative Swiss People's Party (SVP.)
Surveys had suggested that the proposed ban was favoured by only 35% of the electorate. However, according to first results yesterday, support for the proposal appeared to have topped the 57% mark. “It is a huge surprise,” the country's French-language television station said.
Observers said the resounding “No” to minarets came after a vigorous campaign to mobilise voters by the SVP and the country's smaller but equally xenophobic Swiss Democratic Union. Posters in support of the ban showed a menacing-looking woman in a black burka posing next to missile-like minarets standing on top of the Swiss flag.
Ulrich Schluer, a triumphant SVP MP, welcomed the result and claimed that the referendum had helped to foster integration by encouraging debate on the issue.