On Sunday 3 March, I was still in bed at 8 am although my initial plan had been to be sliding across a frozen lake on my cross country skis by that time. I normally wake up between 5 to 5:20 am on week days (as I commute from Lausanne to Geneva and have to be in the office before 7:30 am) and on weekends either I am up by 7 am or I am really tired, in which case I can get out of bed as late as 10 am. Fortunately, I was woken up by a text message from Stéphanie to inform me that her ex-husband would be visiting the flat in Geneva I was trying to sublet. So how come I was still in bed at that time despite my initial intention of being out in the cold on a pair of cross-country skis by that very same time?
It was simply because I had already crossed the frozen lake of Joux in full (i.e. from Le Pont to Golisse) just about half a day before getting up and that, as I result, I was still trying to recover from this long and particularly exhausting walk (even though we had completed the walk almost in full at a highly leisurely pace, so that the crossing took close to 4 hours).
As I had only discovered this really great experience for the first time a year ago, I was bent on getting a go at it for a second time this year before the lake would be closed to the public. Although I have read somewhere that in the early eighties the lake had once remained frozen until the beginning of May, this phenomenon lasts only a couple of days nowadays. So it is very much a question of enjoying lake of Joux while the ice is still thick enough to bear the weight of dozens and dozens of people. In other words, enjoying it while it is still safe to do so.
My initial plan was to be back in Lausanne before noon to be able to cast my votes on time. I have used the plural form because Swiss citizens rarely vote on a single topic. This is because in Switzerland citizens are able to initiate changes to legislation through ‘popular initiatives’. Provided a hundred thousand (100,000) signatures of citizens entitled to vote are collected by the committee within a period of 18 months, this ‘initiative’ is submitted to voters’ approval or rejection through a referendum. Parliament/government can come up with a ‘counter initiative’ (de facto, a counter proposal) if they reckon the ‘initiative’ is likely to be successful and rock the boat too violently.
On Sunday 3 March, three important amendments to Switzerland’s constitution were being proposed: 1) a constitutional article on family policy proposed by Parliament; a popular initiative against ‘fat cat’ salaries; a revision of the law governing town and country planning in Switzerland. In a nutshell, the first vote was on whether to adopt at the federal and cantonal levels policies to help parents wishing to combine work and family (especially mothers who have had to drop out of the workforce to look after their offspring); the second was on what type of legislation to adopt to rein in excessive chief executive pay and so-called golden handshake packages; the third was on whether or not to curb urban sprawl through tighter separation of building and non-building land.
I could have voted by correspondence, but I decided not to. Firstly, I feel that by going to the station and seeing other voters cast their votes one is reminded of the whole civic aspect inherent in the act of voting, which in my mind sending one’s vote by post (postal ballot) totally obliterates, thereby making the extra effort almost equivalent to earning one’s right to vote. Secondly, I felt that the stakes were so high that I wanted to make sure that I would be putting the envelope into the ballot box myself. This view is not shared at all by fellow Swiss voters, as postal ballot has become the preferred means of voting for Swiss citizens, to the extent that the number of voting stations has been brought down in Lausanne from 14 to 6, effective with this first round of votes for 2013.
As I usually do, I forgot that the deadline was 11 am and not noon. Having spent most of the morning exchanging correspondence in connection with the flat I was trying to sublet, I did not see the time pass. However, having not gone to Vallée de Joux so as to be able to vote, I was determined to make it to the vote station on time. So what was I to do? Would I take a taxi?
No, although I did not have much time left, the fastest way to get to the ballot station (as I do not own a car) I reckoned was to put on my running gear and run to the school where voters from Lausanne would be casting their votes …
(Credit for the map: Googlemaps.ch)
Fortunately, I had run past this school when I was training for the Geneva marathon in 2011, so I knew I should be able to make it, but I was not so sure how long it would take me to get there. However, I was so frightened that my votes might not make it into the box on time that I went down flying. So much so that having left home at about 10:40, I was already out of the station at 11:55, having probably queued up at the station for 3-4 minutes because of the number of voters present.
But it was well worth it: the Swiss people voted like me, although the pro-family policies that were being proposed failed to win a majority at the cantonal level in spite of a majority of Swiss citizens having voted in favour of them. However, as a result of the vote, Switzerland should be joining in a couple of years the very select club of countries that allow shareholders to exercise a binding vote on executive remuneration, right now only the Netherlands and Denmark, if I recall correctly.
- Voters crack down on corporate pay packages (Swissinfo.ch, 3 March 2013)