Swiss spying, cow horn referendums split voters

Swiss voters headed to the polls Sunday on a set of referenda including a proposed constitutional amendment to preserve cow horns headed by a livestock farmer inspired by talking to his herd of cattle.

The referendum, which is part of Switzerland's direct democracy system, also includes controversial legal revisions that clarify whether insurance companies are allowed to secretly monitor suspected welfare cheats, as well as a proposal that would give the Swiss judiciary precedence over international agreements.

The "Swiss Law First" measure, backed by rightwing groups, calls for domestic law to be placed above international law, a move that opponents claim would damage the neutral country's global standing.

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In early poll results, voters appeared to reject the move to give Swiss courts primacy, with some 67 percent of voters rejecting it.

Safeguarding cows

Much of the public attention has been focused on an unusual grassroots campaign that began with few resources and no political support: Farmer Armin Capaul collected the over 100,000 signatures needed to force a national vote on protecting cows' horns.

The proposal outlines a constitutional amendment that would create incentives for farmers to let horns grow, rather than an outright ban on dehorning.

Capaul maintains that despite attention heaped on him after forcing the national vote, he is not the story. "It's the cow that's important, not me," the farmer, in his 70s, told the AFP news agency at his home in Perrefitte, a rural municipality in the heart of the Jura mountain range.

His cows gave him the idea to push for Sunday's referendum, said the Alpine herder. "I always talk to my cows in the barn. They asked me if I could do something for them, if I could help them keep their horns," he said.

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Early results split

While polling earlier in November suggested the outcomes were too close to call, early projections on Sunday by Swiss broadcaster SRF suggested that voters would reject the measures on cow dehorning and judicial independence.

Projections from Swiss dailies Tribune de Geneve and Neue Zürcher Zeitung, however, indicated that the measure on allowing insurance companies to spy on their insured would pass.

kl/tj (AP, AFP, Tribune de Geneve, Neue Zürcher Zeitung)

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