Coronavirus: Bern tests the limits of democracy – Switzerland

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No question for federal elected officials to stay at home during the health crisis. Parliament will hold an extraordinary session dedicated to the coronavirus from May 4 to 8. Even if the state of emergency is extended after April 19. The decision was taken Thursday by the offices of the two Houses, following the formal request of 32 senators. A very special meeting: since the pandemic does not allow to sit under the Dome, the elected officials will meet at Bernexpo, an exhibition center located in the suburbs of the capital. This move will help to respect “the rules of hygiene and distancing decreed by the Confederation”, explains the President of the National Council, Isabelle Moret (PLR / VD).

According to the Vaudoise, holding this session is essential. “It is a question of the parliament playing its role of counter-power: approving the decisions taken by the government, exercising its duty of high surveillance and proposing possible other measures. For example, if an economic sector has not been sufficiently supported, “she said. “The crisis situation is the responsibility of the Federal Council, but the parliament has a say,” says the President of the Council of States, Hans Stockli (PS / BE).

Acute phase of the epidemic

Behind these grand declarations, some elected officials are very skeptical about the need for this meeting, especially at the UDC. For the national councilor Jean-Luc Addor (UDC / VS), this obstinacy to sit even in case of prolongation of the state of emergency is incomprehensible. “What signal are we giving to the population? We are asking people to stay at home, and we should do the exact opposite, and what is more, when the epidemic is probably still in its acute phase? ” For him, this session is not necessary. “None of the measures taken by the Federal Council risks falling as of right if they are not urgently approved by the parliament. As the country has to unite, one session will reveal divisions, as we will return to partisan politics. ”

There is another problem: the so-called vulnerable elected officials. Namely those who are over 65 or those suffering from chronic diseases and who are directly exposed to Covid-19. “We must guarantee during this session that all the security criteria are met,” reacts Senator Lisa Mazzone (Greens / GE). You can’t play with fire. Democracy also means ensuring that all elected officials who have received a mandate from the people can participate as far as possible. ” Asked about the fate of these vulnerable elected officials, Isabelle Moret called for individual responsibility: an elected official who exhibits symptoms or cannot come for health reasons must stay at home.

“It all sounds like a denial of democracy”

For Jean-Luc Addor, such a position is not acceptable. “These elected officials therefore have the choice between taking risks for their health or giving up making their voices heard. And this when we know that certain votes are played with some voice. It all sounds like a denial of democracy. ”

Stefania Prezioso (GE), the only national councilor from the left of the left to sit in Bern, is one of those at risk. She suffers from a chronic respiratory illness. “Attending this session seems extraordinarily difficult to me. Certainly, security measures will be taken, but there is also the question of transport and housing. ”

“Lack of flexibility”

For the Genevan, the parliament must however meet as soon as possible. “We must play our role of control of the Executive, and bring back to the Federal Council the expectations and the concerns of the population.” In a long letter addressed to Isabelle Moret on March 13, she proposed solutions, such as an online voting procedure – an option considered by the Italian government – or participation in the debate in rooms separated from vulnerable people, with the possibility of taking speech by videoconference.

On online voting, it has for the moment received an end of inadmissibility. “It was explained to me that it would open a breach and risk creating a precedent.” An argument repeated by Hans Stockli: “Elected officials will have to be there physically, no question of proceeding by Skype.” Stefania Prezioso sees this as a lack of flexibility in the methods offered to parliamentarians to intervene between sessions during a crisis, as unprecedented as it is.

A role to fulfill

Opposite, the national councilor Christian Luscher (PLR / GE) is among those who believe that this session should take place. “The population expects parliamentarians that they have elected to fulfill their role. The stability of institutions is at stake. It is also our role to support the Federal Council during this period. There are solutions that allow us to meet in perfect sanitary conditions. ” And for the most vulnerable people? “I do not exclude that certain elected officials cannot – or do not want – to come, but it also happens in normal times, when there are sick people.”

For the vice-president of the PLR, the position of the presidents of the two Chambers is correct. “The Constitution requires us to be there physically, and in Bern in addition. To change that, we would need a popular vote. Now is not the time to organize one. ”

Created: 26.03.2020, 20h49

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