World: For the little Swiss, democracy is child's play

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Des enfants de maternelle lors d'un vote dans le cadre d'un projet citoyen pour les familiariser avec la démocratie directe, à Lausanne, en Suisse, le 18 janvier 2021 © Fabrice COFFRINI Kindergarten children during a vote as part of a citizen project to familiarize them with direct democracy, in Lausanne, Switzerland , January 18, 2021

They are a small dozen, waiting wisely in line to be able to slip in the ballot box the ballot which will change the life in their village of fantasy. They are between three and four years old.

A network of three private nursery schools in Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva, has created a project which should, from an early age, familiarize future citizens with the system of direct democracy of which Switzerland is so proud.

Des enfants de maternelle lors d'un vote à Lausanne, en Suisse, pour les familiariser avec le système de la démocratie directe, le 18 janvier 2021 © Fabrice COFFRINI Kindergarten children during a vote in Lausanne, Switzerland, to familiarize them with the system of direct democracy, January 18, 2021

"The idea is really to allow children to 'to learn democracy. For us, it is also to be faithful to our mission, to make children actors in change and in their future ", explains Olivier Delamadeleine, the general director of Educalis, who manages these kindergartens, to AFP.

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Des enfants de maternelle votent à Lausanne, en Suisse, dans le cadre d'un projet citoyen pour les familiariser avec la démocratie directe, le 18 janvier 2021 © Fabrice COFFRINI Kindergarten children vote in Lausanne, Switzerland, as part of a citizen project to familiarize them with direct democracy, January 18, 2021

There is a growing movement in Switzerland to raise awareness among young people about participation in the system of "votes", these referendums which several times a year call citizens to the polls to give their opinion on a wide range of subjects.

But the Educalis project is distinguished by the very early age of the participants.

- Village in the woods -

Once a week, some 35 pupils from the three nursery schools meet in the "village", in a wood on the edge of the big city.

Some of the children have been assigned specific roles: village chief, nurse or policeman, with the costumes that go with them to allow them to live their role even better.

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"They take their role very seriously", underlines Mr. Delamadeleine, while a "nurse" dressed in a t-shirt with the emblem of the Red Cross, on her ski suit, rushes to help a comrade who cries bitterly after falling head first in the snow.

Visits to the "village" are outdoors whatever the weather.

Wrapped up in multicolored jumpsuits, the children await the event of the day: the referendum.

Eve L'Eplattenier, director of two of the three kindergartens, is kneeling behind a table on which a metal box sits, and she shows the white flag with a brightly colored emblem and a large E.

Une enfant pose avec son matériel de vote, identifique à celui que reçoivent les citoyens suisses pour les © Fabrice COFFRINI A child poses with her voting material, identical to that received by Swiss citizens for "votes", in Lausanne, Switzerland, January 18, 2021 January 18

"It's your new flag", explains t -it to the children, who chose the design during their very first "vote" in November.

For today's vote, they received all the electoral material in an envelope, like any Swiss citizen before an election.

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This time, the question is more subtle: do the children want to vote by secret ballot by putting a cross on their choice or by show of hands, where everyone knows which way we are leaning?

Olivia and Layla, whose hand-painted t-shirts make it clear that they are the village chiefs, come to help Mme L'Eplattenier.

Each child then slides their envelope into the ballot box. More difficult than it looks with hands encased in gloves.

- No to the nap? -

Once their electoral duty has been accomplished, five children and three adults will proceed to the count in a small shelter, which normally serves as a canteen.

Sitting around a large table, the principal explains how to open the envelopes and how to make two separate piles.

The ballots are then counted ... and Layla proclaims the result: "By show of hands there were 19, and the secret ballot there were 17".

Some are disappointed, but Eve L'Eplattenier explains that overcoming this frustration is part of learning democracy.

The next vote in a few months will be on a recycling system for the "village", before another ballot that will change their lives.

"They will be able to position themselves on the time of the nap, the duration of the nap, is the nap compulsory or optional, that can be subjects which can be interesting", explains the director.

nl / vog / apo / slb

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