Friday, April 12, 2019

failed democracy

I don't believe in the evil of taxation without representation.  When – many years ago when I still lived in London – a bunch of aggravated American expats threw three and a half bags of builder's tea into the Thames, I had nothing but mild condescension for them. If you don't like the way things are, go back to where you came from.  This was easy for me to say.

Back then, I didn't consider myself a migrant.  I was a mercenary of science, joining labs where there was excitement and staying until the money ran out.  I didn't grow roots, and I didn't want to.  There was no sense of permanence.

Things have changed over the years and my situation and my attitude are much different now.  With a job without an expiration date and, especially, with children, I perceive my surroundings differently.  I have already written that I don't find the idea of taking up another nationality as absurd as I did in the past.  I feel a strong urge to belong, but it's not easy.

Dietikon, the town I live in, is rather underprivileged by Swiss standards.  Unemployment is around 4%, and the ratio of people on benefits is higher than anywhere else in the canton.  The town is far from the picture-perfect Alpine village one often associates with Switzerland.  It is also full of immigrants, some naturalized but many not.

When Switzerland played Albania in the Euro 2016, the game shown on a big screen on the town square.  Excitement and good spirits were all around, but more flags showed black birds than white crosses.  I cannot blame the Albanians for showing national pride and for not picking up the colors of the locals, the colors, after all, of their adopted country.  They are – all we foreigners are – welcome to a limited degree only.

At 45%, Dietikon has the second highest share of foreigners in the canton.  The strongest party on the town council and the executive is the populist and angry Swiss People's Party, a right-wing outfit of questionable values.  Instead of representing immigrants, it detests them and tries to keep them away.  How can they win elections here?

This is easy.  Only slightly more than half of all (tax-paying) residents are eligible to vote.  Foreigners, no matter how involved they are in local issues, how much they care about their hometown, how hard they work to make it a better place, are ignored.  Elected politicians, even if they came close to getting every vote from every eligible voter, represent only a minority of residents.

I accept that national elections are for nationals and that the right to vote is bestowed upon citizens only, but for local elections, this is a farce.  Keeping residents from voting in local elections – with their direct repercussions on local affairs – is a travesty of democracy.

If national law doesn't let you kick foreigners out of the country, you have to make it possible to integrate them politically.  Otherwise, you'll create a parallel society of people who don't belong, don't care, don't do.  In Switzerland only very few cantons allow municipalities to let foreigners vote locally.  Zurich is not one of them.  I will thus be disenfranchised until I apply for Swiss nationality, which is a few years off if I do it at all.  Until then, why should I care about anything that happens in Dietikon?  It's all imposed on me anyway.

At the most recent local elections here in Dietikon, just a bit more than a month ago, participation was a pitiful 25%.  How representative are the representatives, even disregarding the residents that are barred from voting?  There's an easy way to fix this.  The silent majority would be much more eager to cast their ballot if hordes of Albanians or Germans were suddenly allowed to vote – and thus threaten to annihilate centuries of Swiss culture with their savagery.  You'd probably also find, at least locally, that the important issues – development, education, traffic, crime – remain the same no matter who is allowed to cast their vote, except now decisions would have much broader support.

Opening local elections to all residents would be an unambiguous gain for democracy.

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