Switzerland is voting today, Sunday on whether to ban “full facial coverings” in public places.
The vote comes after years of debate, following similar bans in other European countries, such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Switzerland operates a system of direct democracy that has allowed the vote to go ahead. Any topic can be put to a national vote as long as it gathers 100,000 signatures in the country of 8.6 million people.
Opinion polls have suggested the measure could pass narrowly and the ban would become law.
“In Switzerland, our tradition is that you show your face. That is a sign of our basic freedoms,” Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and a member of parliament for the Swiss People’s Party, had said.
He called facial coverings “a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland”.
The proposal predates the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen all adults forced to wear masks in many settings to prevent the spread of infection. It gathered the necessary support to trigger a referendum in 2017.
The proposal compounded Switzerland’s tense relationship with Islam after citizens voted in 2009 to ban building any new minarets. Two cantons already have local bans on face coverings.