Swiss Vote to Maintain 165-Year-Old Military Draft

Swiss voters rejected a third proposal in two decades to end the draft in a referendum, opting to keep the military tradition which critics say costs an annual 4 billion francs ($4.4 billion) in lost work days.

The initiative to replace Switzerland’s 165-year-old militia service with volunteers was supported by just 26.8 percent of voters today, Swiss television channel SRF said on its website. About 73.2 percent voted against the proposal. A poll by gfs.bern signaled that outcome as probable.

The neutral Swiss have been unwilling to alter the shape of the conscripted army, which dates back to 1848 and is compulsory for physically fit men from age 19. The military has schooled generations of business executives, with former UBS AG Chief Executive Officer Peter Wuffli, Swiss Life Holding AG’s CEO for Switzerland Ivo Furrer and Josef Ackermann, former CEO of Deutsche Bank AG, among those who served.

“The initiative clearly failed,” Group for a Switzerland Without an Army, a lobby which has been trying to abolish the military since 1982, said in a statement.

“We didn’t manage to persuade Swiss voters that pointlessly forcing men to do military service should belong to the past,” it said. Swiss voters rejected attempts to abolish draft laws in 1989 and 2001.

Young men must complete 300 days in the army, or opt for civilian community service on ethical grounds, which lasts about 150 days longer. Women are able to join the armed forces on a voluntary basis.

Neighboring Germany, Italy and France have all abolished the draft, as has the U.S. Austrian voters rejected an abolition in a nationwide referendum earlier this year.

“The SVP is pleased by this clear vote from the people for a secure Switzerland,” the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) said in a statement.

(Corrects job title of Ivo Furrer and Peter Wuffli’s status in third paragraph in story published Sept. 22.)
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