Swiss voters set to reject Saab fighter jet deal, poll shows

ZURICH Sun Mar 16, 2014 12:15pm EDT

A model of a Gripen fighter jet is pictured before a news conference in Bern February 11, 2014. REUTERS/Thomas Hodel

A model of a Gripen fighter jet is pictured before a news conference in Bern February 11, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Thomas Hodel

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ZURICH (Reuters) - A majority of Swiss voters are against the purchase of 22 Gripen fighter jets from Swedish defense firm Saab (SAABb.ST), a poll showed on Sunday, raising the possibility that a popular vote due in May could scupper the $3.4 billion deal.

Around 62 percent of voters would reject the proposal to replace Switzerland's aging fleet of Northrop F-5 Tiger fighters with the Gripen jets, according the survey conducted by polling institute Leger and published in Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick.

The poll, which questioned more than 1,000 people, showed 32 percent of those who planned to vote were in favor of the deal.

The Gripens are unpopular with some in Switzerland, which has not fought an international war for 200 years, because the deal will require cost cuts in other areas, such as education.

Switzerland's upper and lower houses voted in favor of the purchase of the jets in September, but Swiss interest groups can secure referendums on new laws if they collect a sufficient number of signatures.

The vote on the jet purchase is scheduled for May 18, the same day as a popular vote on whether to adopt the world's highest minimum wage.

The poll showed 52 percent of voters were in favor of introducing a minimum wage of 22 Swiss francs ($25.25) an hour, or 4,000 francs a month.

Around 42 percent of voters said they would reject the initiative, which the government said last month would hurt competitiveness and lead to job cuts.

Swiss voters generally have a history of rejecting proposals that they feel could hurt the economy.

However, last month they unexpectedly backed a proposal to cap immigration from the European Union, despite warnings from the business and political elite that it could be detrimental to the economy.

(Reporting by Alice Baghdjian; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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