The debate over Covid-19 has calmed down across most of the world this year, as the death rate from the pandemic has declined and other issues have captured the public imagination. But political and legal processes sometimes lag behind, as shown by a referendum held in Liechtenstein yesterday. (For background, you can read up on Liechtenstein here and here.)
Like most European countries, Liechtenstein introduced strict controls last year to try to limit the spread of the virus. Access to public enclosed spaces was restricted to those who could show either a certificate of vaccination or proof of recovery from Covid. But in May this year the constitutional court ruled that this regulation (which by then was no longer in force) exceeded the government’s powers.
The following month the government secured parliamentary approval of legislation to support its health regulations, with a sunset date of June next year. But with the pandemic on the wane there was evidently a widespread feeling that this was no longer justified; a vote to put the change to a referendum was defeated by only 16 to nine, being supported not just by the two far-right MPs but by seven defectors from the two governing parties.
So the usual suspects set about getting the thousand signatures necessary to petition for a referendum (in fact they got 3,572 – no mean feat in a country with fewer than 40,000 people). And yesterday a narrow but clear majority voted against the legislation: 52.7% saying “no”, a margin of 735 votes. Turnout was a healthy 66.8%.
Clearly the referendum had roused more than the hard core of anti-vaxers, Covid-denialists and faux “libertarians”; voters must have thought that the government had over-reached by pushing to validate rules that were no longer necessary. But since the moral of the story is that the health crisis can move more quickly than the political responses, there could be problems ahead if next winter should bring a new deadly variant.