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Switzerland - General Elections

Federal Elections in Switzerland a round up one week before the vote

Federal Elections in Switzerland a round up one week before the vote

15/10/2007 - D-7

Around 5 million Swiss voters including 110,000 not living in the Swiss Confederation will be electing the 200 members of their National Council, the lower Chamber in Parliament and 41 of the 46 members of the State Council, the Upper Chamber on 21st October next. Indeed the two senators from the canton of Zug – one a member of the Free Democratic Party (PRD/FDP) and the other from the Christian-Democrat Party (PDC/CVP) – the senator from the canton of Nidwald (PDC/CVP), the senator from the canton of Obwald (PRD/FDP) and the senator from Appenzell Rhodes-Interior (PDC/CVP) have already been appointed.

The electoral campaign has been dominated by the head of the Federal Department (Ministry) of Justice and Police (FDJP), Christoph Blocher (Swiss People's Party UDC/SVP). The Socialist Party (PSS/SPS) is leading an active campaign against his re-election within the Federal Council which will be appointed on 12th December by the future Parliament.
The "Valentin Roschacher" scandal (the name of the federal prosecutor who resigned in July 2006 after months of turbulent relations with the head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police) is still making it to the front page of the newspapers. In September, the national counsellor (PDC/CVP) and president of the sub-committee for the management of the National Council, Lucrezia Meier-Schatz revealed that there were documents belonging to banker Oskar Holenweger which suggested the existence of a conspiracy in which Christoph Blocher is said to have been involved, to force the federal prosecutor to resign.
On 3rd October a debate took place at the National Council about the Valentin Roschacher/Christoph Blocher Affair which lasted a long time. The Swiss People's Party defended the head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police; the other parties, mainly the Socialist Party and the Ecologist Party-Greens (PES/GPS), denounced the activities of the far right populist party which they say is trying to distract the public's attention from the real problems that Swiss society is facing. Christoph Blocher protested against the declarations made by some Federal Council members who he says suggested that he had participated in a criminal manœuvre to remove the prosecutor of the Confederation.

On 5th October last events that took place in Switzerland were as violent as they were unusual in this country of consensus. The Swiss People's Party organised a demonstration in Bern. At the same time a counter demonstration organised by the Greens in protest against the Populist Party (UDC/SVP), rallied around 2000 people and took place quite peacefully. However 10,000 members and supporters of the Swiss People's Party were prevented from demonstrating by around 500 activists and members of the alternative movement Black Blocks. Fighting occurred during which around 20 people were injured including 18 policemen; material damage was estimated at around 66,000 euro. "The biggest party in Switzerland was prevented from demonstrating," declared an indignant Christoph Blocher.
"I didn't like what I saw, I was sad," declared the President of the Swiss Confederation and head of the Federal Department for Foreign Affairs (FDFA), Micheline Calmy-Rey (PSS/SPS), in the daily Le Temps adding "The freedom of opinion and the right to demonstrate are protected by the Constitution. I am appealing for dialogue and tolerance. I can see signs of misunderstanding abroad. The extremely hard climate contradicts the tradition of peace conveyed by centuries of neutrality. Tension and provocation might leave scars on a system of concord, the success and effectiveness of which rely on the capacity for dialogue between the various political trends."
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According to many analysts these incidents only serve the purpose of the Swiss People's Party. "The far left has served the cause of the UDC which is now playing the victim. And this might encourage voters to show solidarity with it. If the Swiss People's Party's demonstration had occurred peacefully in the form of a march with Christoph Blocher and the goat Zottel (the UDC party's lucky mascot) only ten lines would have been dedicated to the event. But the extreme events that occurred will make the headlines for several days," maintains political analyst Georg Lutz.

This electoral campaign, unique in the Swiss Confederation due to the fact that it has become personal and due to the provocation on the part of the Swiss People's Party, has been denounced by a number of political personalities who are not really used to the use of such aggression; many think that the country will not emerge unscathed from this; "I am not going to talk of a crisis. This is an unusual situation, it is tense, since one of our colleagues has been involved," declared the President of the Confederation. "Even in the midst of provocation there are limits to what can be said. Swiss People's Party's campaign is endangering the Swiss abroad and is damaging the country's image, notably at the UN. Provocation is not the Swiss method. Dialogue is in line with our mentality. The way this campaign is going gives me the impression that the Swiss are not gullible. They are not sheep who allow themselves to be led just anywhere and anyhow. I hope that the Swiss People's Party's campaign, the party that uses the Swiss cross in its electoral propaganda and on the posters and which is in fact the least Swiss of the Swiss political parties will make it possible to wipe away the façade," stressed Micheline Calmy-Rey.
Pascal Couchepin (PRD/FDP), head of the Federal Home Department (FDHA) also thinks that the Swiss People's Party strategy is dangerous long term. "To speak of an obscure plot, means a criminal conspiracy. To think that the authorities of this country plotted together like criminals means a corruption of the idea of democracy," he said. The chairman of the Christian Democrat Party, Christophe Darbellay said "A country that earns one franc in two abroad and which is constantly trying to attract new investors cannot afford to be the cause of scandal in the international press. We have to be aware of this when we go to vote." The PDC/CVP leader also criticised Christoph Blocher and Samuel Schmid (UDC/SVP), head of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport maintaining, "Since 2003 two UDC/SVP federal counsellors have been responsible for security. Do we have better protection four years on? The answer is no. Portraying the devil on posters is not enough, there must also be action."

Although he is a member of the Swiss People's Party Samuel Schmid has communicated his concerns: "It is normal for there to be a particular climate before the elections. But not like this. I am sorry about what is happening at present. It serves no purpose. On the contrary it damages Swiss political culture. Unfortunately some are not aware what political culture is made of; it is the result of developments over several centuries. Consensus is the result of a political culture that has been maturing for a long time. This culture implies a certain amount of modesty and the respect of minorities even if we win. I feel that we are neglecting certain minorities leaving them on the roadside. That worries me," he stressed.

The liberal forces hope to continue reducing taxes; the left believes this to be a short term policy. "The aim is to reduce VAT by 1% by 2010," declared the chairman of the Swiss People's Party, Ueli Maurer who would like to reduce public debt by 9 billion Swiss francs (5.3 billion euro) in compensation for this reduction.
Although the leader of the Free Democratic Party, Fulvio Pelli, believes that this proposal is unrealistic he does however believe that a simple, competitive fiscal system would be good for Switzerland and supports the ideas behind the demands made by the Swiss People's Party. Conversely the chairman of the Socialist Party, Hans Jürg says that the right's fiscal policy will only benefit a small minority and that exaggerated tax reductions for the rich for whom families and SME's will have to pay are contrary to social justice and will damage the country. The Socialist Party, which at the end of its campaign has refocused its objectives on socio-economic issues, launched an initiative in favour of fair taxes obtaining the 100,000 signatures necessary for a referendum to be held. The Ecologist Party-Greens (PES/GPS) is also against a policy to reduce taxes.

The financing of political parties is still a theme that the right does not want to debate. On several occasions tried over the last few years the Socialist Party has tried to push for transparency with regard to the funding of parties, lobbies and electoral campaigns. This has been in vain. In 1999 national counsellor Andreas Gross (PSS/SPS) suggested that all support made to a political party in excess of 500 Swiss francs should be made public. Four years later he tried to modify the law with regard to political laws for fairer electoral campaigns. In 2002, the national counsellor Pierre-Yves Maillard (PSS/SPS) suggested the prohibition of the funding of political parties and the establishment of an audit of the funding and accounting methods of parties and electoral campaigns of candidates running in the federal elections. All of these projects were rejected.

The polemic surrounding Christoph Blocher does not appear to have damaged the Swiss People's Party which just one week before the federal elections is still in the lead. The Populist Party is due to win 27.3% of the vote according to the most recent poll by the Electoral Barometer published by the Swiss Radio Company (SSR) on 10th October last. The Socialist Party lies second with 21.7% of the vote. With 15.5% of the vote the Free Democratic Party is forecast to take third place from the Christian Democrat Party, which is credited with 15.4% of the vote. Finally the Ecologist Party-Greens is gaining ground and is due to achieve 10%. Slightly more than half of the Swiss electorate is due to vote. (53%).
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
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