Swiss voters set to accept pension payment boost, maintain retirement age

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            Geneva, March 3 (AFP/APP):Swiss voters on Sunday appeared set to accept a proposal to boost pension payments while snubbing a push to hike the retirement age, at a time when the country’s ageing population faces ever-swelling living expenses.

                  Shortly after polling stations closed at noon (1100 GMT), the gfs.bern polling institute projected that the Swiss had overwhelmingly rejected a call to gradually raise the retirement age from 65 to 66.

                  The second proposal on Sunday’s ballot — calling for a 13th monthly pension payment each year — appeared headed towards a popular majority, the polling institute said.

                  But it remained unclear whether the initiative could secure the double-majority needed to pass, by winning both the popular vote and majorities in most of Switzerland’s 26 cantons.

                  Initial partial results for instance showed voters in Geneva backing the proposal by nearly 76 percent, while 53.5 percent of voters in the central canton of Lucerne opposed it.

                  Most people vote in advance in Switzerland, which holds popular votes and referenda every few months under its direct democracy system, and final results were expected by late afternoon.

                  The “Better living in retirement” proposal, put forward by Swiss trade unions, calls for pensioners to receive an additional monthly payment, similar to the 13th monthly salary that many employees receive in Switzerland and other European countries.

                  Monthly social security pension payments in Switzerland can rise to 2,450 Swiss francs ($2,780) for individuals and 3,675 francs for married couples.

                  The payments do not go far in a country consistently ranked among the most expensive in the world.

                  – ‘Soaring’ costs –

                  “There is a purchasing power crisis,” Pierre-Yves Maillard, head of the Swiss Trade Union Federation (SGB) and part of the “yes” campaign, told AFP ahead of the vote

                  “The cost of living just keeps soaring,” agreed Jakob Hauri, a retiree quoted by the campaign.

                  Left-leaning parties support the initiative but it has been fiercely fought by right-wing and centrist parties.

                  The Swiss government and parliament also oppose it.

                  The government has said that the proposed hike would cost more than four billion Swiss francs a year, warning that it would require tax increases and could threaten the financial stability of the social security system.

                  And it maintains that the proposed change would have a limited social benefit, with the additional payments going to all pensioners, regardless of their financial situation.

                  “If the initiative passes, a lot of retirees will receive a 13th social security payment even though they don’t really need it,” it warned.

                  – ‘Irresponsible’ –

                  For the hard-right Swiss People’s Party, the “irresponsible” initiative would allow freeloaders to deplete the social security system.

                  Switzerland’s largest party has been striving to drum up opposition with adverts, including one showing 100-franc notes being sucked down a drain.

                  The youth branch of the right-wing Liberal Party proposed the vote to raise the retirement age in order to ensure the pension system is fully financed.

                  The vote comes less than two years after Swiss voters narrowly opted to raise the retirement age for women from 64 to 65, to match the retirement age for men.

                  But opinion polls have long indicated that that initiative was dead in the water.

                  Initial partial results showed overwhelming majorities opposing the move, with nearly 78 percent of Geneva voters for instance looking set to vote against it.

                  Voter participation is generally low in Switzerland’s popular polls and rarely inches above 50 percent.

                  But Sunday’s issues have sparked heated debate and participation was expected to be higher than usual.