Swiss vote to join UN, shed isolationism

Swiss voters abandoned centuries of political isolationism and narrowly agreed on Sunday that their staunchly neutral country should join the United Nations.

Swiss voters abandoned centuries of political isolationism and narrowly agreed on Sunday that their staunchly neutral country should join the United Nations.
Official figures showed the ''yes'' camp won 54.6 percent of the popular vote and 12 of 23 full cantons, a double majority required under the Swiss system of direct democracy.

The vote leaves the Vatican the only state that is not a full member of the world body.

''If there is a winner in this election, then it is our country because we can now bring as much as possible our values, our traditions, and our good services into the UN,'' foreign minister Joseph Deiss said in Berne.

Although Switzerland is deeply engaged in UN activities and hosts its European headquarters in Geneva, its fierce neutrality and independent-mindedness had kept it from becoming more than just an observer.

Many who voted ''yes'' in the referendum felt the decision to join the United Nations had been long overdue.

''I think Switzerland has missed the world's growing together. Switzerland can no longer stand on the sidelines,'' said Ladina Fuchs of Zurich.

Opinion polls had suggested most voters would back becoming the UN's 190th member, but left open whether most cantons would agree. The voting system lends extra weight to small, German-speaking regions traditionally wary of the wider world.

Turnout was relatively high at nearly 58 percent. The canton of Geneva approved by a two-to-one margin amid strong support in francophone western Switzerland, while German-speaking eastern Switzerland was mostly opposed.

At issue in the watershed vote was not just foreign policy and the government's credibility, but also Switzerland's definition of itself and its place in the world.

Opponents said that joining the United Nations would undermine Swiss sovereignty and make the alpine country of 7.3 million a pawn of the world's great powers.

''The UN doesn't change anything. It is a paper tiger. The vote on the UN is a purely emotional and not a rational issue,'' grumbled ''no'' voter Peter Guenter of Zurich.

The billionaire populist politician Christoph Blocher led the ''no'' campaign by stoking fears that Swiss soldiers may be dragged into combat under a UN flag.

Bureau Report

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