Swiss voters refuse to rein in immigration from EU

The Swiss have rejected a bid to dramatically reduce immigration from the European Union, but have embraced offering paid paternity leave for the first time, projections from several votes in the country Sunday showed.

Shortly after polls closed at noon (1000 GMT), projections from gfs.bern polling institute indicated that 63% of Swiss voters had balked at the initiative to tear up an agreement permitting the free movement of people between Switzerland and the surrounding EU.

The initiative, backed by the populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) — Switzerland’s largest party — had been opposed by the government, Parliament, unions, employer organisations and all other political parties out of fear it would jeopardise overall relations with the bloc.

Public support for the initiative had also been seen slipping in recent opinion polls, but the suspense remained high since SVP has eked out surprise victories in the past in its war against tightening relations with the EU.

Most people vote in advance in the popular polls and referendum held in Switzerland every few months as part of the country’s famous direct democratic system, usually making it possible to quickly surmise which way the vote is headed.

SVP’s initiative called for Switzerland to revise its Constitution to ensure it can autonomously handle immigration policy.

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