Zurich voters strongly reject lowering the voting age to 16

Zurich voters have rejected a referendum proposal to lower the voting age to 16 within the canton by a two-thirds majority, seemingly extinguishing the plan’s hopes at a federal level.

A voter casts their ballot in the Swiss canton of Zurich. Photo: SEBASTIAN DERUNGS / AFP
A voter casts their ballot in the Swiss canton of Zurich. Photo: SEBASTIAN DERUNGS / AFP

On Sunday, Zurich voters had the chance to see the canton become just the second in Switzerland to lower the voting age to 16. 

The proposal was however roundly rejected, with 64.8 percent of voters saying no. 

Almost every municipality in the entire canton of Zurich was against the proposal, other than Winterthur Altstadt and a handful of electorates in the centre of Zurich city. 

Despite the vote focusing on suffrage for 16 year olds, only those aged 18 and over were permitted to vote. 

Generally speaking, younger people vote less regularly than the average in Switzerland. Less than one in three people aged 18 to 29 take part in elections regularly, compared with 45 percent of the broader population.

A consequence of the change in Glarus saw a greater adoption of progressive policies, including those focused on reducing environmental damage and climate change.

Is the proposal now dead at a federal level? 

The proposal’s supporters largely sit on the left side of Swiss politics, with the Greens being some of the most prominent advocates. 

As Zurich’s electorate is far more progressive than the rest of the country, it is likely the proposal is dead in the water. 

Other cantons have already rejected a similar move, including Uri and Neuchâtel, while Glarus approved a change in 2007. 

At this stage, it is unlikely the proposal even sees a vote at a federal level. 

Referendum: Zurich to vote on lower voting age

Andrea Caroni, from the Council of States representing Appenzeller Ausserrhoden, said the proposal raised a range of other issues and he doubts the proposal would even reach a federal vote. 

“Only one canton has said yes so far.” 

“One would have to be consistent: if one wanted to lower the voting age, the age of consent would also have to be reduced.”

Mathias Zopfi, from the Greens, said that while it was unlikely the proposal would be successful at a federal level, it should still be put to a vote at a national level. 

“The fact that the people of Zurich are against lowering the voting age does not increase the chances.” 

“(However) we don’t have to be afraid of democracy. If Switzerland says no to lowering the voting age, then they say no.”

Switzerland approves all federal proposals

Swiss voters on Sunday accepted all three legislative proposals put forth by the Federal Council — the organ donation, Lex Netflix and Frontex.

Swiss law requires a referendum when a proposal for a law change made by the government is opposed by enough voters. 

With all three initiatives proposed by the government solidly backed by the voters, “the authorities won everything this Sunday”, commented The Tribune de Genève.

More information is available at the following link. 

REACTION: How Switzerland responded to Sunday’s referendum results

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Deadly elephant-killing virus at Zurich Zoo stumps experts

A deadly virus has swept through Zurich's zoo, killing three Asian elephants in a month. Experts are stumped about the virus and don't know how to stop its spread.

Deadly elephant-killing virus at Zurich Zoo stumps experts

The zoo overlooking Switzerland’s largest city now has only five of the majestic creatures roaming its 11,000-square-metre (118,400-square-foot) elephant enclosure.

Two-year-old bull Umesh was the first to fall victim to the Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) at the end of June, followed just days later by his eight-year-old sister Omysha.

Last Saturday, Ruwani, a five-year-old female from a second matriarchal herd also died.

They succumbed at lightning speed to the herpesvirus, which leaves young Asian elephants with internal bleeding and organ failure.

In captivity, this virus is “the main cause of death for elephants between two and eight years”, zoo curator Pascal Marty told AFP.

The virus has also been known to kill elephants in the wild, he said, but “it’s a bit harder to detect”.

Last goodbye

The herpesvirus lies latent in nearly all elephants, both in the wild and in captivity, but can in some cases suddenly become deadly, killing its victims in a matter of days.

“We still don’t know why it happens and when it happens,” Marty said.

The zoo’s five remaining Asian elephants — all adults — were permitted to spend a few hours gathered around the remains of their young family members and companions.

Marty said it was important to give the animals “enough time (to) say farewell”. “It’s very hard to say whether or not they are sad, because sadness is something human,” he said.

But he stressed that since elephants are highly social animals, it is vital that they have a chance to realise when a member of their herd is no longer alive.

“It is very important for them to have closure to understand this individual is not part of our group anymore.”

Less than a week after the latest death, the giant mammals appear to be going nonchalantly about their daily activities, from swimming in a large pond to searching for food.

They slip their trunks into holes, where a computer programme randomly distributes carrots and dried grass, aiming to make the animals walk and search for food as in the wild. 


“It is kind of sad, especially because here in Zurich I think the elephants do have enough space,” said frequent visitor Mauro Muller, 29. Zurich zoo opened its new elephant enclosure in 2014, providing its herds six times more space than they had previously.

But eight years on, the zoo acknowledged it was going through “difficult days”.

“It is particularly frustrating that we are powerless against this virus, despite the best veterinary care through the university animal hospital in Zurich,” zoo director Severin Dressen said in a statement.

There is no vaccine, and while antivirals exist, they are not very efficient and even when elephants are treated quickly, only about a third of them survive.

“The epidemiology of the disease is still not clear,” said Bhaskar Choudhury, a veterinarian and member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Asian Elephant Specialist Group.

“The virus is shed intermittently by adults but with increasing frequency during stress periods, which is thought to be the source of infection for young calves,” he told AFP.

“IUCN is highly concerned with the mortality worldwide in captivity and more so in the wild.”


Asian elephants, which can live up to around 60 years old, are listed by the IUCN as an endangered species, with only about 50,000 left in the wild. Deforestation, urban sprawl and agricultural development have robbed them of their natural habitat, while poaching and the illegal ivory trade also threaten many herds.

“The populations are declining almost everywhere,” Marty said, adding that for conservation reasons, “it is also really important to have good and healthy populations of Asian elephants in Europe”.

Zurich zoo, he said, has one of the world’s most modern elephant enclosures, and is intent on continuing with its mission to breed them.

He described the elephants in the park as “partners” in educating people about the problems wild elephants face. “Elephants here at the zoo have an important role as ambassadors for their own species,” he said.