Nationalists obtain record high in Swiss parliament

Although many saw the campaign as tainted by racism or xenophobia, the Swiss elected their first black parliament member Sunday.

October 21, 2007 19:54
4 minute read.
Nationalists obtain record high in Swiss parliament

Swiss elections 224.88. (photo credit: AP)


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The nationalist Swiss People's Party received the highest vote ever recorded for an individual political party in Switzerland, after a bitter campaign blaming foreigners for much of the country's crime, according to official results released Monday. But in the complex world of Swiss politics, where Germanic voters have to get along with fellow citizens of a Latin temperament, Sunday's national parliamentary election still leaves the country ruled by the same four-party government, covering a wide spectrum of political views. The Federal Statistics Office said the People's Party received 29 percent of the vote. That topped the 1919 performance of 28 percent achieved by the pro-business Radical Democrats when Swiss elections were reorganized immediately after World War I. The Social Democrats, the second-largest party, were the big losers, dropping to 19.5 percent from 23.3 percent. The People's Party added seven seats to bring to 62 its total in the 200-seat National Council, the lower house of parliament, also edging out the Radical Democrats' 1919 record of 60, according to the statistics office. The Green Party added six to its 2003 performance, bringing its total to the party's best showing of 20 seats, reflecting concerns for the environment on the left. Although many saw the campaign as tainted by racism or xenophobia, the Swiss elected their first black parliament member Sunday - Ricardo Lumengo of the Social Democrats, an Angolan who arrived in Switzerland as an asylum seeker the 1980s and subsequently became a legal expert. People's Party president Ueli Maurer and other party leaders pledged to continue working among the four major parties in the long-standing Swiss system that covers the wide range from Social Democrats on the left to People's Party on the right. All four parties share in the governing Cabinet, without a prime minister and with the president only a figurehead. In the campaign the People's Party called for a law to throw out entire immigrant families if a child violates Swiss laws - the most recent variation of the party's anti-foreigner theme. "I'm very happy," said Maurer. "We have reached the highest score ever since this electoral system began." Maurer said the People's Party would now turn its attention to reducing crime, cutting taxes and keeping Switzerland out of the European Union. "The idea of EU accession should at last get out of everyone's heads," Maurer said. A Swiss bid for EU membership filed in the 1990s has been suspended by the Cabinet in recent years, and the People's Party - which campaigns for strict adherence to Swiss traditions of neutrality and independence - wants the application withdrawn completely. Under three decades of the leadership of 67-year-old Chistoph Blocher, whose family fortune from chemicals and plastics is an estimated 2 billion to 3 billion Swiss francs (U.S. dollars), the People's Party spread from the German-speaking heartland until it reached even into the more Europe-friendly areas in French-speaking western Switzerland. The People's Party claims foreigners are responsible for much of the crime in the country. Party posters featuring white sheep kicking out a black sheep sparked outrage that was blamed in part for a riot two weeks before the election. Switzerland's population of 7.5 million includes about 1.6 million foreigners, including many workers from southern Europe and refugees from the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Applicants for Swiss citizenship typically must wait years and clear administrative hurdles before they are granted Swiss passports. The Social Democrats, who focused their campaign on rejecting the People's Party proposal, have 43 seats, a drop of nine. Some voters expressed disquiet. "I'm very disappointed that the Swiss people fell for such an election campaign by the People's Party," said Matthias Weller, a 30-year-old physician in Zurich. "People don't realize that their campaign is just made with money. They don't have a program, except for cutting government spending." "I'm very happy with the result," said Ruth Genner, president of the Greens. But she noted that the party appeared to be just short of its goal of 10 percent. If it had reached that figure, it had said it would ask to join the four major parties in the Cabinet. The Greens campaigned heavily on a theme of combatting climate change, including proposals for a ban on air shows in Switzerland and imposition of a jet fuel tax to counter the emissions of greenhouse gases from airplanes. The two center-right parties, the Radical Democrats and the Christian Democrats, each had about 15 percent of the vote _ about the same as in 2003 _ but the Radical Democrats will lose five seats for a total of 31. The Christian Democrats will gain three seats for the same total. Nearly 4.8 million Swiss voters were eligible to cast ballots Sunday for the two-chamber National Assembly: the National Council and the 46-seat Council of States. Results for the upper chamber were incomplete because a runoff will be held Nov. 25. The full assembly will then determine the makeup of the seven-member Cabinet on Dec. 12.

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