The Swiss parliamentary
Update added on December 13, 2007
On December 12, in
an unexpected move, a majority of the Swiss parliament (the left together
with the Christian-Democrats and a few Radicals) have refused to reelect the SVP
minister of justice and police Christoph Blocher. Instead, they opted for
the daughter of the former Swiss Federal Councilor Leon Schlumpf, Eveline
Widmer-Schlumpf. She is a regional minister in the Canton of Grisons. After
one day of reflection, she accepted her election on December 13, 2007. The SVP leaders decided to quit the government. This could mean the end of the
Swiss consensus government. Christoph Blocher is said to become the
opposition leader and to take over the party leadership. The SVP could
be divided because its two elected ministers remain in the government, but
they do not have the support of the party leadership and have been excluded
from the SVP parliamentary group (fraction).
Article added on December 2, 2007
Is Switzerland a country of
Switzerland is better known for
cows, but in the Swiss parliamentary elections 2007, the sheep played a much
Not for the first time, the populist and right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) ran a successful electoral campaign with
some xenophobic slogans and
election posters. At the heart of the 2007 election controversy was a poster
showing a white sheep kicking a black sheep out of Switzerland -
“for higher security” - as the slogan stated (photo on the right).
The controversy was overblown - exactly what the SVP needed. Some suggested
that the black sheep represented a racist attack on African immigrants. I do
not share that view. Since Swiss people not respecting Swiss laws cannot be
expelled from Switzerland, the election poster was
“only” targeted at foreigners not respecting Swiss laws. Given the history of
SVP electoral campaigns at least since the 1990s, which were worse in the
past, it is safe to conclude that the Swiss People's Party intended to serve
xenophobic feelings within an important part of the Swiss electorate.
Switzerland has some 7.5 million inhabitants, 20% of whom are foreigners.
Among the criminals jailed in Swiss prisons and among the people violating
Swiss laws is an unusual high proportion of foreigners. The Swiss drug
traffic for instance is dominated by Albanians and Kosovars. The traditional
parties have not dealt adequately with crime and belittled them.
However, simplistic electoral slogans and posters will not resolve the
problems. Most worrying however is that the SVP considers the Swiss to be
sheep. But as long as not more than 29% of the populations seems to agree
with that statement, Switzerland is not lost.
The results of the 2007 Swiss parliamentary elections
In Switzerland, we have a system known as perfect bicameralism in
which the Lower and the
Upper House of the Swiss Parliament have exactly the same powers.
On October 21, 2007 the Swiss People's Party (SVP) won a record 29% (+2.3)
and 62 seats (+7) in the Lower House (Nationalrat) with its 200 members. The
Social Democratic Party (SP) won 19.5% (-3.8) and 43 seats (-9). The Free
Democrats (FDP) won 15.5% (-1.5) and 31 seats (-5). The Christian Democratic
People's Party (CVP) won 14.6% (+0.2) and 31 seats (+3). These are the four
biggest parties represented in the Swiss federal government called the Swiss
Federal Council (Bundesrat) with seven members. The three biggest parties
each have two members in the government, the CVP has one seat. The party
coming closest to the score of the CVP is the Green Party (GPS) with 9.6%
(+2.2) and 20 seats (+7), the biggest winner of the election, but still far
away from winning a seat in the Federal Council.
In short, although some commentators wrote of a political earthquake,
everything remains the same regarding the representation on the level of the
executive branch. Given the fact that Switzerland is a consensual democracy,
small shifts in the parliamentary representation from one party to another
are the norm, the legendary political stability is maintained.
In the Upper House (Ständerat) with its 46 members, after the last decisions
in the second round - in some cantons held as late as November 25, 2007 -
the Christian Democrats maintained their 15 seats won in 2003 and the Social
Democrats their 9 seats. The Free Democrats, the party that founded the
Swiss Federal State in 1848, lost 2 seats and have now only 12 Members of Parliament in the Upper House. The Swiss People's Party is much weaker in
the Ständerat where only 1 or 2 candidates per canton are elected. The SVP
actually lost 1 seat compared with 2003 and has now only 7 members in the
Upper House. The Green Party managed two surprise wins in the Upper House,
in the cantons of Geneva and Zurich. In Zurich Verena Diener managed to beat
the SVP candidate Ueli Maurer, the long-serving president of the Swiss
The strong man within the SVP is the billionaire Christoph Blocher. The
“political earthquake” in Switzerland took place in 2003, when the SVP became
Switzerland's largest party and the Christian Democrats fell behind to the
fourth place. As a result, the CVP had to give up one seat in the government
and the SVP increased its representation in the executive branch from one to
two seats. More importantly, the Swiss Federal Assembly, the united 246
members of the Lower and Upper House, elected Christoph Blocher into the
government. This change did not result in a right-wing shift of government
policies. It was rather a light change in style. Blocher was both at times,
a member of the government and a member of the opposition. This is nothing
new in Swiss politics. Especially in the past, the
champions of this kind of double-face politics have been the Social
During the electoral campaign of 2007, the SVP managed to impose its themes
of immigration and security. In addition, the party managed to exploit a
“secret plan” by the other parties to oust Christoph Blocher. In fact, there
was a dirty charade with false accusations against Blocher which could only
have been clarified after the elections. Blocher's party immediately managed
to produce a key document proving that its leading politician had clean
hands. All governmental parties can be accused of foul-play in the 2007
Regarding the future, Christoph Blocher announced in interviews on the
internet site Teleblocher
that his priorities lie in reforms of the Swiss social insurances and the
privatization of the telecommunications giant Swisscom.
The Minister of Justice and Police Christoph Blocher predicts a bright
future for his party because it is still weak in the French speaking part of
Switzerland, where its organization could be better and its representatives
more competent. Blocher himself cannot see his party reach around 50% of the
popular vote because, in order to become a real mass party, it would have to
blur its message. To put it bluntly, with xenophobic messages you cannot win
have of the Swiss population.
Unlike Silvio Berlusconi, the Swiss billionaire Christoph Blocher has
separated himself from his assets before joining the government. He has no
permanent conflicts of interest. As long as the majority of the Swiss does
not think that we are sheep, the Swiss democracy is not in danger.
However, since xenophobic and simplistic posters and slogans helped the SVP
to triple its parliamentary representation from 1975 to 2007, it is highly
probably that the 2011 electoral campaign will be as dirty as the one we
have witnessed this year, which was not the fault of the SVP alone.
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