Swiss voters are deciding on a far-right proposal to ban facial coverings as they take to the polls on Sunday in a binding referendum viewed as a test of attitudes toward Muslims.
The proposal under the Swiss system of direct democracy does not mention Islam directly and also aims to stop violent street protesters from wearing masks, yet local politicians, media and campaigners have dubbed it the burqa ban.
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 before the vote.
He called facial covering “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.