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Gerhard Pfister

09.04.2021 – SUSANNE WENGER

Swiss politics welcomed a new party at the beginning of 2021 after the merger between the Christian Democrat People’s Party (CVP) and the Conservative Democratic Party (BDP). The party’s new name, “The Centre”, sounds a bit lame. History is in the making nonetheless, because the Catholic Conservative movement, once a political force in Switzerland, has now consigned its religious ties to the past. Top Christian Democrat Gerhard Pfister, who was educated at convent school, is behind this radical break. Pfister (canton of Zug) highlighted his conservative values when he took over the party leadership in 2016. Now he has moved the CVP away from its traditional Catholic roots because the party has been losing voters for almost 40 years. It is even touch and go whether it will hold on to its seat in the Federal Council. Pfister is trying to attract new voters who would otherwise be put off by the “C” in CVP. “I want to talk politics with people, but end up having to talk religion with them,” he says. Pfister, 58, is regarded as a clever strategist who is by no means averse to political manoeuvring and power. Eloquent and erudite, he appears just as comfortable talking about art and culture as he is about politics. Pfister has sold the merger as a “fresh opportunity”, seeing potential for a new centre power with a social conscience to counteract the polarisation between left and right. Reaction from commentators has been mixed, ranging from praise (“an original solution”) to scepticism (“final humiliation for the CVP”). Will Pfister’s plan work? We will find out after the next federal elections in 2023.