Geneva: In a global first, the Swiss voted Sunday on a radical proposal to provide the entire population with enough money to live on, no strings attached.
In a measure almost certain to fail, voters are being asked whether they want all Swiss citizens, along with foreigners who have been legal residents in Switzerland for at least five years, to receive an unconditional basic income, or UBI.
Polling stations in most places opened at 10:00 am (local time) and were set to close at noon, but most people in the wealthy Alpine nation vote in advance.
In Geneva for instance, 47.4 percent of eligible voters had already cast their ballot yesterday evening, according to the regional voting service.
Supporters of the UBI initiative say providing such an income would help fight poverty and inequality in a world where good jobs with steady salaries are becoming harder to find.
The idea is controversial, to say the least. The Swiss government and nearly all the country's political parties have urged voters to reject the initiative -- advice which 71 percent are inclined to follow, according to the latest opinion poll.
Critics have slammed the initiative as "a Marxist dream", warning of sky-high costs and people quitting their jobs in droves, to the detriment of the economy.
Proponents reject that, arguing people naturally want to be productive and that a basic income would simply provide them more flexibility to choose the activities they find most valuable.
"For centuries this has been considered a utopia, but today it has not only become possible, but indispensible," Ralph Kundig, one of the lead campaigners, told AFP.
The amount to be paid has yet to be determined, but the non-political group behind the initiative has suggested paying 2,500 Swiss francs (USD 2,500/2,300 euros) a month to each adult, and 625 francs for each child.
That may sound like a lot, but it is barely enough to get by on in one of the world's priciest nations -- leaving plenty of incentive to work, campaigners say.
Authorities have estimated an additional 25 billion francs would be needed annually to cover the costs, requiring deep spending cuts or steep tax hikes.