The European Elections Monitor

Open panel Open panel
The European Elections Monitor
Switzerland - General Elections

Federal Elections in Switzerland 21st October 2007

Federal Elections in Switzerland 21st October 2007

27/07/2007 - Analysis

5 million Swiss voters are being called to the urns on 21st October to renew the 246 members of the two Chambers in Parliament: the National Council and the State Council.
A record number of candidates aged 18 to 89 have signed up to run in these elections on 311 lists: 3,089 candidates – including Swiss living abroad (+ 49 in comparison with the federal elections on 19th October 2003). 110,000 Swiss from abroad enrolled on the electoral lists (out of a total of 645,000). Since 1992 they can take part in the federal elections. The Socialist Party (PSS/SPS) also promised that they would have specific representation in Parliament; the dispersion of their votes in the home cantons makes it difficult for them to elect a representative dedicated to them specifically.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said that it would send an observation team comprising 12 members for these elections.

The Political System



The two Chambers in Parliament, the National Council and the State Council, have exactly the same competence. The Swiss system is qualified as perfect bicameralism. The role of an MP is not a profession in Switzerland; MPs hold their seat in Parliament for which they receive an allowance and in addition to this they have a professional activity.

The National Council represents the people and includes 200 members elected every four years by a proportional voting system. Each of the 26 cantons elects a number of MPs proportional to its population. The canton of Zurich has 34 MPs; Appenzell-Rhodes-Intérieures, Appenzell Rhodes-Extérieures, Glaris, Nidwald and Obwald have one each.
The two Chambers are elected on the same day.

14 political parties are represented in the National Council at present:
- the Central Democratic Union (UDC/SVP), led by Ulli Maurer, a member of the Federal Council (government) is the successor to the Farmers, Craftsmen and Bourgeois Party (PAB). Lying to the far right the party became the leading political movement in Switzerland in terms of votes won during the federal elections on 24th October 1999. It has 55 seats;
- the Socialist Party (PSS/SPS), led by Hans Jürg Fehr, is Switzerland's 2nd most important party and has 52 MPs;
- The Radical Democratic Party (PRD) has always been represented in the Federal Council where it held all of the seats until 1891. Led by Fulvio Pelli, the party has suffered a continuous decline since 1983 and has 36seats;
- The Christian Democrat Party (PDC/CVP), which was formerly the Catholic Conservative Party, is the political organ of Swiss Catholics. Lying in the centre of the political scale and led by Christophe Darbellay, it has suffered a regular decline since the 1980's and has 28 MPs;
- The Swiss Ecologist Party - the Greens (PES) resulted after a merger between the ecologist movements that formed within several cantons during the 1970's; it has 13 MPs;
- The Swiss Liberal Party (PLS), founded in 1913, uniting the right wing of the Radicals has 4 seats;
- the Evangelical Party (PEV/EVP), a Christian party whose programme focuses on the defence of the family, the protection of the environment and is committed to "a healthy economy that fulfils moral values," has 3 seats;
- the Federal Democratic Union (UDF), a conservative party founded in 1975 has 2 MPs;
- the Labour Party-Popular Workers Party (PST), is successor to the Communist Party that was banned in 1940; it has 2 seats;
- the Democrats (SD), created in 1961 under the name of National Action and re-named Swiss Democrats in 1990; it has 1 seat;
- the Ticino League (LEGA), a rightwing protest movement founded in 1991; it has one seat;
- Solidarities (Sol), a radical leftwing movement with 1 seat;
-The Social Christian Party (PCS), is successor to the 19th Century Social Christian Movement was founded in 1997. It has 1 seat;
- the Alternative List (AL), far left party with 1 seat.

The State Council represents the cantons and has 46 members elected for four years by a majority voting system except in the canton of Jura (proportional voting). Each canton has 2 seats in the State Council, except for the half cantons of Obwald, Nidwald, Basel-Town, Basel-Rural, Appenzell-Rhodes-Extérieures and Appenzell-Rhodes-Intérieures which only have 1 seat each). The members of the State Council are elected by a relative majority as in the canton of Geneva or by an absolute majority as in the canton of Vaud. A second round is organised in the cantons electing their representatives by an absolute majority and where this result has not be achieved in the first round of voting. The second round takes place three weeks after the first round, i.e. on 11th November next.
The executive power is held by the Federal Council comprising 7 members elected for 4 years by Parliament. The federal administration is subordinate to these. Traditionally outgoing candidates took up their post again or as long as they agreed to take on the position of Federal Councillor. However after the elections on 19th October 2003 Federal Councillor Ruth Metzler-Arnold (PRD/FDP) was not re-elected. Christoph Blocher (UDC/SVP) was chosen instead, which for the first time in the country's history, helped change the famous "magic formula" that has existed in Switzerland since 1959. Until 2003 the Federal Council comprised 2 Radical Democrat Federal Councillors, 2 Christian Democrat Councillors, 2 Socialist Councillors and 1 who belonged to the Democratic Centre Union. After its victory in the 2003 elections the latter won a second seat to the detriment of the Radical Democrat Party. The Federal Council represents the country's various linguistic regions and communities and is run according to a collegial principle. Hence the government is not a result of a parliamentary majority elected according to a government programme but is an agreement between the four main political parties. These parties govern without a joint programme and they have no electoral charter.

A President elected for one year from amongst the Federal Councillors leads the Helvetic Confederation. The Head of State's role is essentially symbolic and honorary. Traditionally each Federal Councillor is elected President in turn and according to how long they have held their post. At present the post is held by Micheline Calmy-Rey (PSS/SPS); she is also Head of the Federal Department (ministry) for Foreign Affairs (DFAE).

The Election Stakes



During the last federal elections on 19th October 2003 the Central Democratic Union won its wager to become the leading political party clinching 26.6% of the vote and 55 seats on the National Council. After the election, the extremist party won a second seat on the Federal Council leading to a modification in the magic formula. This constituted a revolution in the Confederation. Four years later the Central Democratic Union's position and the composition of the Federal Council are still the two major issues at stake in the elections on 21st October.

Should Christoph Blocher be re-elected or not? This question has become central to the electoral campaign in the shape of the Central Democratic Union and Christoph Blocher, head of the Federal Department for Justice and the Police. This is a completely unheard of situation in Switzerland, as is the personalisation of the electoral campaign. Within this country of consensus Christoph Blocher is an especially atypical character, embodying a culture of confrontation that to date has played somewhat in his favour. "Switzerland is undergoing profound change. Politics based on a democracy of non-competitive parties with an implicit pact of non-aggression is being challenged today," says political analyst Oscar Mazzoleni. "Firstly that Christoph Blocher is in government and that he continues to play a leading role in the Central Democratic Union, that politics is increasingly personal and also that the Federal Council no longer seems to act as one are the reasons why the Federal Council is the subject of such great debate in the electoral campaign," added the political analyst who believes the "Roschacher affair" is yet another element that will make the situation even more acute.

Over the last few weeks the Valentin Roschacher "affair" has featured on the front page of the tabloids. Valentin Roschacher, a federal prosecutor resigned from office in July 2006 after months of turbulent relations with the Head of the Federal Department for Justice and Police, Christoph Blocher. Just a few weeks ago, Lucrezia Meier-Schatz, (PDC/CVP), chair of the National Council management sub-committee revealed that there were documents belonging to banker Oskar Holenweger that intimated the existence of a conspiracy whereby Christoph Blocer was involved in forcing the federal prosecutor Valentin Roschacher to resign. The Federal Council appointed Georg Müller, a specialist of Constitutional Law, as an independent expert to look into this affair and to provide a material and legal opinion of the report written by the National Council management sub-committee. He will deliver his conclusions after the elections on 21st October. Interviewed about the affair the President of the Swiss Confederation, Micheline Calmy-Rey, stressed: "The report by the management committee raises a certain number of serious issues with regard to the monitoring of the Confederation's public ministry and to the division of power." Lucrezia Meier-Schatz has been given police protection after receiving several death threats.

The Central Democratic Union has been quick to suggest that a conspiracy involving the federal councillors, MPs, civil servants and journalists has been set up to bring down Christoph Blocher. For his part Christoph Blocher denounces the campaign of accusation launched against him, which he qualifies as "methods worthy of totalitarian States". Ulli Maurer, the party's chair, has spoken of "an unprecedented scandal in the Confederation's history."

The Socialist Party, which on 10th December 2003, still had not voted for Christoph Blocher in the Federal Council maintains that it does not want him re-elected even though they do not challenge his party's right to have two seats in the Council. "It would be totally contradictory to vote for Christoph Blocher in the name of harmony if the latter does not even respect this," says Ursula Wyss, leader of the Socialist parliamentary group. It is possible that as Federal Councillor Christoph Blocher could one day be elected President of the Swiss Confederation. The leaders of the Socialist parliamentary group repeat that the present composition of the Federal Council does not match the population's political position. Via its declarations the Socialist Party is not only targeting the Central Democratic Union, but also the Radical Democratic Party. "We want to break with the Central Democratic Union-Radical Democratic Party majority in the Federal Council since it is not representative of the Parliament nor of the electorate. A change in majority would only be possible if the Socialist Party, the Christian Democrat Party and the Ecologist Party-Greens agreed to take a seat from the Radical Democratic Party which is over-represented in the Federal Council," declared the party's chair Hans Jürg Fehr. The Socialist Party has however said that it would not reveal its choice for the Federal Council and the strategy it wanted to apply before the elections on 21st October next.

The Radical Democratic Party indicated that it would support the re-election of Christoph Blocher to the Federal Council. On 11th July last Hans-Rudolf Merz (PRD/FDP), the head of the Finance Department (DFF), and Pascal Couchepin (PRD/FDP), head of the Federal Home Office (DI) both said they would stand for the Federal Council.

The Federal Council will be elected by Parliament on 12th December next.

The Campaign



As in 2003 the Central Democratic Union and Christoph Blocher dominate the electoral campaign in these elections. Their campaign against immigration was the source of lively response in Switzerland and also beyond its borders. The posters in question portrayed three white sheep chasing a black one kicking its behind with the text "For more security", on another there was a veiled woman with the question "Aarau or Ankara?" and "Baden or Bagdad?"
Swiss Confederation President Micheline Calmy-Rey said "she was worried and disgusted at the racist campaign which encourages hate." "We must be strong enough to oppose this type of campaign," she stressed. Federal Councillor Pascal Couchepin (PRD/FDP) went further comparing Christoph Blocher to Benito Mussolini saying that the Central Democratic Union's campaign smacked of the 1930's. Swiss law prohibits public racist speech, a measure that the Central Democratic Union would like to see modified after the elections on 21st October. "I know that the Turks are a modern people, they are very much like us. But with Afghanistan we have seen how society can undergo rapid change and consequently we have to be on our guard," said Andreas Glarner, candidate for the Central Democratic Union in the party's defence.

On 18th August last the Central Democratic Union announced the main points in its programme: refusal of any kind of EU membership for Switzerland, expulsion of any foreigners found guilty of a crime, fight against youth violence and social benefit abuse, a reduction in taxation. The extremist party who is campaigning under the banner of "My home, our Switzerland" is suggesting "a contract with the people".
On August the National Day all households received a text from the Central Democratic Union advising the expulsion of foreign criminals together with a petition in support of the project. The text, called "Extradition Initiative" has to be signed by 100,000 people within 18 months in order to be put to referendum. The Central Democratic Union maintains that foreigners living in Switzerland, around 20% of the population (mostly Europeans) are responsible for four times more crimes than citizens with Swiss nationality.

The far right party is undeniably toughening up its attitude as the federal elections draw closer. In the past this strategy worked in its favour. "It is certainly no coincidence that the Central Democratic Union has published this text just before the election," says Oliver Geden, a political analyst at the Institute for Security and International Affairs in Berlin, referring to the Extradition Initiative petition. "The Central Democratic Union has the most visible campaign but this does not mean a greater number of votes for the time being. This party has succeeded in mobilising new voters but the Blocher-Roschacher affair has made a great divide and in the end it has had negative effects on the Central Democratic Union," maintains Claude Longchamp, political analyst and director of the pollster Gfs.berne. However the polarisation of the campaign has also benefited the parties that are more to the centre for example the Christian Democrat or the Socialist Party who are counting on the moderation of the electorate.

On 15th September last Christophe Darbellay, leader of the Christian Democrat Party addressed his party's delegates and called for everyone "to fight for each vote so that they all ended up on the podium." He denounced "the axes of fear" established by the Socialist Party and the Central Democratic Union, criticising the poster representing the sheep put up by the UDC/SVP but also the one showing a plane crashing into a nuclear power station sent out by the PSS/SPS. The Christian Democrat leader presented a ten-point programme to "fight against excessive prices." The assembly of delegates adopted a text requesting the payment of benefit to children and young people in training to be exempt of tax.
On the same day Radical Democratic Party chair, Fulvio Pelli said he was proud of the results produced by the two federal councillors, Pascal Couchepin and Hans-Rudolf Merz. "Unfortunately no one talks of this and no one remembers," he said. "In four years I have succeeded in reducing expenditure, taxes and debt. That is something," maintains Hans-Rudolf Merz, head of the Federal Finance Department (DFF). "The media seem to want to create an event in December at all costs and that is the only thing that now seems to count," he stressed.
The Socialist Party aims to become the leading movement again after these elections. The party is emphasising the improvements achieved in employees' working conditions and maintains that it wants to establish a monthly minimum salary of 3,500 Swiss Francs (around 2,100 euro) and to see the results produced by growth re-distributed in a fairer manner. "The Swiss Socialist Party is a result of union movements. We are an employees' party. Not a party of shareholders or people that live off capital," said its Vice-President Pierre-Yves Maillard. The party is trying to draw closer to the Christian Democrat Party which it invited to work on the issue of family policy. Although the Christian Democrats say they are satisfied that the Socialist Party is joining in with their proposal to exempt family benefits from taxation, "this does not mean we are ready to marry the Socialists" – according to Christian Democrat leader Christophe Darbellay who wants to see the start of talks between all parties on the Federal Council.

The Ecologist Party-Greens adopted a programme comprising six priorities: better protection of the environment, fiscal reform including a tax to encourage renewable energies, advantages for companies which protect the environment, the promotion of technological innovation and true international ecological commitment on the part of Switzerland. The Green Party is fighting for "an ecological transformation of the economy."
According to polls immigration and integration as well as the protection of the environment are the two themes of greatest concern to the Swiss (28% in each case). These themes are followed by unemployment (11%), asylum and refugees (9%). All of these are a godsend for the Central Democratic Union (58% of those interviewed believe that it is the best placed party to solve these problems) and also for the Greens (68% believe that the ecologist party is the best placed to protect the environment).

The most recent poll undertaken by Gfs.berne, which was published mid-September, credits the Central Democratic Union with 25.6% of the vote. The party is followed by the Socialist Party which is due to win 22.6% of the vote, then comes the Christian Democrat Party which is due to win 15% of the vote coming out slightly ahead of the Radical Democratic Party (14.7%). Finally the Ecologist Party-Greens is due to win 10.7% of the vote.
Political analysts are expecting an increase in the participation rate. Around 55% of the Swiss say they will vote on 21st October next (+10 points in comparison with the figure recorded in the last elections on 19th October 2003). "The emotional aspect of the campaign has succeeded in calling the attention of those who would not normally vote but it is difficult to forecast whether the mobilisation will last until 21st October," declared the director of the pollster Gfs.berne, Claude Longchamp.

Reminder of Federal Election Results – 19th October 2003 – Switzerland



Participation rate: 44.5%

National Council




State Council


Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
Other stages