* Swiss to vote on limits to executive pay on March 3
* Vasella to step down as Novartis chairman on Feb 22
ZURICH Feb 15 (Reuters) - Novartis Chairman Daniel Vasella said he will receive up to 72 million Swiss francs ($77.94 million) over the next six years after leaving the company this month, news that might play into the hands of supporters of a referendum to limit "fat cat" pay.
Vasella told Swiss TV SRF on Friday he will be entitled to annual payments of 12 million francs if he respects the clauses of his contract banning him from working for a competitor.
"So that would add up to 72 million francs within six years," he told TV news magazine "Tagesschau," adding he and his family had decided to donate the money net of taxes.
The news comes two weeks ahead of a referendum on March 3 in which Swiss voters will decide whether they want to give shareholders in Swiss companies a veto over executive pay deals.
Politicians questioned by Swiss TV said they were shocked about the high amount Vasella would receive after leaving the Basel-based pharma company, with minister Simonetta Sommaruga saying she was "speechless."
Polls show 65 percent would approve the initiative - the brainchild of businessman Thomas Minder - who has tapped public ire over lavish bonuses blamed for fuelling a high-risk culture that nearly felled Swiss bank UBS.
Novartis said last month Vasella would not stand for re-election to the board of directors at the annual general meeting on Feb. 22.
With a salary of 15.7 million Swiss francs in 2011, Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez was the second-best paid manager in Europe, after Volkswagen's Martin Winterkorn, who earned 17.5 million euros ($23.29 million).
($1=0.9238 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Bernadette Baum)