Bloomberg News

Swiss Anti-Immigration Party Loses, Ending 20-Year Advance

October 24, 2011

(Updates with preliminary results from second paragraph.)

Oct. 24 (Bloomberg) -- The Swiss People’s Party lost ground in parliamentary elections as voters boosted the share for smaller parties that campaigned for renewable energy and measures to support an economy hurt by a strong currency.

The People’s Party, or SVP in German, won 25.3 percent of the vote yesterday, down from 28.9 percent in 2007, according to Swiss television. The Green Liberal Party and the BDP, which split from the People’s Party three years ago, added votes.

Preliminary results show the Social Democrats are poised to get 17.6 percent of the vote, down from 19.5 percent in 2007, while the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats fell to 14.7 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

“This shows that not everything is possible for the Swiss People’s Party,” Andreas Ladner, a professor at the University of Lausanne’s Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration, IDHEAP, said by telephone from Zurich. “It’s not a complete defeat, but the expectations were very high and this could signal the end of the increasing popularity of the party.”

It’s the first time in two decades that the SVP, led by Toni Brunner, hasn’t boosted its popularity in federal elections. The party gained votes in recent years at the expense of the Liberals and the Christian Democrats by feeding concerns that the proportion of foreigners in Switzerland -- now at 22 percent -- is too high. The party also opposes European Union membership, military involvement abroad and higher government spending on social welfare.

‘Magic Formula’

The parties will now hold discussions on whether to maintain the country’s “magic formula,” which states that the three biggest parties each get two members in government while the fourth-biggest gets one.

“It’s clear that we are and will remain the strongest political force in this country,” Martin Baltisser, the SVP’s secretary general, said in an interview last night. “We have the clear backing of our policies and will continue on our path,” he said.

Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, whose BDP split from the SVP in 2008, would no longer be a member of the government if the SVP gets two seats. The People’s Party and the Liberals said yesterday they would like to stick to the formula while the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats and the BDP have said they’re open to discussing the composition of the seven-member body.

‘Mass Immigration’

The Green Liberal Party was founded in 2004 and campaigned for renewable energy while also promoting entrepreneurship. The BDP campaigned mainly with Widmer-Schlumpf, who has been leading the country’s efforts to support companies that are hurt by a surging franc.

The SVP’s campaign of “Stop Mass Immigration” helped the party while the Social Democrats campaigned for a more equal distribution of wealth. The Christian Democrats support family- friendly plans while the Liberal Party aims to boost employment and improve trade.

While Switzerland’s adjusted jobless rate held at a 2 1/2- year low of 3 percent in September, Brunner’s strategy of blaming immigrants for domestic problems such as higher rents or rising crime has still resonated with voters.

SVP Vice President Christoph Blocher, a 71-year-old billionaire who is the party’s best-known politician, appeared set to return to the lower house of parliament.

All 246 seats were up for grabs in the Bern, Switzerland- based parliament, which is similar to the U.S. Congress, with one house representing the population and the other the 26 regions, or cantons.

New Minister

With 28 parties and one of the world’s most complicated election systems, the outcome is never clear-cut. The new parliament’s makeup helps determine who gets into the government, while there won’t be any formal coalitions formed between the different parties.

The Federal Council, the seven-member government, is elected by the parliament. With the resignation of Social Democrat Micheline Calmy-Rey, the foreign minister and current head of government, there will be at least one new minister named in December when the body is elected.

The Green Liberal Party grabbed 5.3 percent of the vote while the BDP got 5.2 percent, according to preliminary results.

The growing popularity of the Green Liberals and the BDP “shows that the traditional parties have problems,” Ladner said. “The Liberals and the Christian Democrats are no longer attractive to the voters, and they’re voting for less extreme parties, those that haven’t been involved in everyday politics.”

--With assistance from Simone Meier in Zurich. Editor: Matthias Wabl, Fergal O’Brien

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer M. Freedman in Geneva at jfreedman@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net.


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