Luxembourg (AFP) - Luxembourg overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum on Sunday giving full voting rights to foreign nationals, who make up nearly half the population.
Just over 78 percent of voters in the tiny European Union country said "No" to granting foreigners the vote, according to final results.
Had the vote been carried, the landlocked nation of over half a million people would have been the first in the EU to grant foreign-born residents the right to vote in all the country's elections.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel had billed the referendum as a chance to boost the democratic credentials of the wealthy duchy, which is nestled between Belgium, France and Germany.
But as it became clear voters disagreed with his arguments, he admitted defeat.
"The message in clear and has been understood. This is not a success for the governing parties," said Bettel. "We will respect the result."
While campaigning Saturday in the capital, also called Luxembourg, the premier said a "Yes" vote was also a vote for democracy and diversity.
"There is no other European country where only 40 percent of the population elects its representatives," Bettel told journalists ahead of the referendum, in which 244,382 people were eligible to vote.
About 46 percent of the total population of 565,000 people are foreigners.
"No other country in the world, apart from Dubai, has our level of democratic deficit," he added.
Bettel's Democratic Party, which is in coalition with the Socialists and Greens, had proposed to enfranchise foreigners resident in Luxembourg for over 10 years.
Around 35,000 mostly European migrants met the criteria.
- 'Political apartheid' -
Bettel has led the charge for change in Luxembourg on a number of fronts. He was the first EU leader to enter into a same-sex union when he married his gay partner last month.
"What matters is that we carry on with integration in this country and that we continue to live together and respect one another," Bettel said.
The referendum deeply divided Luxembourgers, many of whom fear losing even more influence to foreigners who already play a vital role in the economy.
On her way out of a polling station in the capital, 55-year-old Nicole said she voted "No" because she believed the voting question should be solved by giving more foreigners Luxembourg citizenship.
"I think people should become Luxembourgers," said Nicole, a municipal worker married to a Frenchman.
Another voter, a civil servant named Claude, disagreed, saying: "We must enlarge the constituency and put an end to the political apartheid against foreigners."
A victory for the "Yes" camp would have shaken up the political landscape because foreign nationals tend to be younger than their Luxembourg counterparts and more likely to work in the private sector.
After the Portuguese, who account for 16.4 percent of the population, the Grand Duchy is made up of French nationals (seven percent), Italians (3.5 percent), Belgians (3.3 percent) and Germans (2.3 percent).
Non-European foreigners -- such as Cape Verdians, North Americans and Chinese -- account for seven percent of the population.
Former prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker's Christian Social People's party (CSV) had called for a "No" vote, while the business community and civil society groups backed the "Yes" campaign.
Even in areas of the capital home to many people with immigrant roots, the "No" voters were in the majority.
Jena, who has Portuguese origins herself, said she voted against giving foreigners the right to cast a ballot.
"It's not our country. I opted for double nationality and I have integrated into the culture here, which is not my own," she said.
"Everyone has their place," she added.