Swiss voters have rejected by a wide margin a proposal to provide a universal basic income grant to all citizens, initial results and projections showed.
National projections showed around 78 percent of voters rejected the initiative.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Voters went to the polls on Sunday to decide whether the wealthy country should grant all Swiss citizens an unconditional basic income (UBI) that supporters say will tackle poverty and inequality.
Foreigners who have been legal residents in Switzerland for at least five years would also be eligible for the grant.
The amount to be paid was not determined before the vote, but the group behind the initiative has suggested paying $2,500 a month to each adult, and $640 for each child.
Driven by a group of independent citizens, the initiative collected 126,000 signatures triggering the referendum.
“People voting yes to the initiative will ensure that the principle of a dignified life guaranteed to all will be enshrined in the federal constitution,” the campaign says.
Supporters argue that providing such an income grant would assist people in a world where good jobs with steady salaries are becoming harder to find. They say the initiative could be easily financed through slight increases in sales tax or through a small fee on electronic transactions.
The Swiss government and nearly all the country’s political parties have urged voters to reject the initiative.
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.
“If you pay people to do nothing, they will do nothing,” Charles Wyplosz, economics professor at the Geneva Graduate Institute, told the AFP news agency.
Proponents reject this claim, arguing that people naturally want to be productive, and 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 indispensable,” Ralph Kundig, one of the lead campaigners and president of the Swiss chapter of the Basic Income Earth Network, said.
There is little chance of the initiative passing, but Kundig said that “just getting a broad public debate started on this important issue is a victory”.
Authorities have estimated an additional $25.62bn would be needed annually to cover the costs, requiring deep spending cuts or significant tax hikes.
How much the UBI would be, who it would apply to, and how it would be financed and implemented would all have to be debated by parliament in a process that could take many years.
The income grant was one of five issues on the ballot on Sunday. People also voted on issues related to public services and the application procedures for asylum-seekers.