İrem UZUN -TDO- Switzerland’s government is urging voters to reject a proposal to ban burqas and other full-face coverings in a referendum set for March 7, in what could be another contentious vote in the country’s unique system of direct democracy. 

Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, any proposal to change the constitution goes to a popular vote if supporters raise more than 100,000 signatures. The Swiss cantons of St. Gallen and Ticino have already banned full face coverings in regional votes, but the Swiss government said following through with a nationwide constitutional ban was a bad idea.  “Very few people in Switzerland wear a full facial covering,” the government said in a statement.  “A nationwide ban would undermine the sovereignty of the cantons, damage tourism and be unhelpful for certain groups of women,” it added.

Switzerland’s proposal also forbids forcing somebody to wear a facial covering based on their gender.  The grouping behind the proposal, which includes members of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), was also behind the 2009 move to ban minarets, which was approved by nearly 60 percent of voters. Supporters of the 2009 proposal saw the minarets as alien to Swiss traditions and values. Muslims make up only about 5 percent of Switzerland’s 8.6 million people, official statistics show.

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