Swiss voters have rejected an electricity market law that proponents said would promote competition and give consumers choice among the suppliers. The vote was 52.5 per cent against the law. Only about about two million electors took part in the vote.

The vote was required when opponents, including unions and the Green Party, gathered enough signatures to force a plebiscite. They claimed that deregulation could lead to power shortages, that the current system was adequate, and that the proposed law was too complicated. The Federal Executive Council had voted 36-2 in favour of the law, while parliament had voted 159-25 in favour.

Energy department officials saw the proposed law, which took five years to formulate, as a compromise designed to please all economic segments. The law would have gradually opened the market to competition over a period of six years in three phases, beginning with the largest industrial consumers.

The next step is unclear. But if a new market law has to be formulated the process is likely to take at least three years.