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Switzerland shifts to the right

04.11.2015 – Jürg Müller

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the largest political party, made significant gains while the small centre parties lost ground, with the left also emerging weakened from the federal elections.

Switzerland’s political landscape is much changed after the parliamentary elections of 18 October 2015 – the 50th in the nation’s history. The anniversary elections also proved historic as a single party has never achieved such a strong position in the National Council since the introduction of proportional representation in 1919. The SVP’s overwhelming electoral triumph was topped off by the no less important increase in support for the Free Democrat-Liberals (FDP). Virtually all the other parties essentially collapsed. The election result is particularly bitter for the new centre parties which were amongst the winners at the last election in 2011. These are the Swiss Conservative Democratic Party (BDP), which split off from the SVP, and the Green Liberals (GLP).

The winners: SVP and FDP

  • The SVP increased its share of the vote to 29.4 %. At the last election in 2011, its share fell to 26.6 %, which meant it had lost ground for the first time since 1987. It has now won no fewer than 11 additional seats in the National Council, making it the biggest party by some distance with 65 representatives. Two personal stories are indicative of events. The SVP candidate and newcomer to politics Roger Köppel, the publisher and editor-in-chief of “Weltwoche”, enters the National Council with the highest personal number of votes in Switzerland ever. And the Blocher era continues in female form. Christoph Blocher’s daughter Magdalena Martullo-Blocher, CEO of Ems-Chemie, has been elected to the National Council.
  • The FDP succeeded in turning its fortunes around after a 30-year period of decline. Its share of the vote increased from 15.1 to 16.4 %, and it now has 33 seats, having gained three.
  • The Swiss Social Democratic Party (SP) remains the second-strongest party with its share of the vote remaining absolutely stable (2011: 18.7 %, 2015: 18.8 %), but the party lost three seats. Even Andy Tschümperlin, the chairman of its parliamentary group, was voted out in the canton of Schwyz.
  • On the left, the Green Party was dealt a blow. It was already one of the losers at the last election, and its share of the vote has now fallen from 8.4 % to 7.1 %. The Greens now have just 11 seats as opposed to 15.
  • The CVP also lost ground as part of the downward trend of the centre parties. The party, which has a rich tradition, saw its share of the vote slip from 12.3 % to 11.6 %. Having lost just one seat, the party escaped with a black eye and now has 28 representatives. It nevertheless suffered its worst election result of all time.
  • The Swiss Green Liberal Party (GLP) had a major setback, especially in light of its spectacular gains in 2011 when it increased its number of seats from 3 to 12 after securing 5.4 % of the vote. It has now slipped back to 4.6 % and has seen its number of seats, now standing at 7, almost halved.
  • The Swiss Conservative Democratic Party (BDP), the party of Federal Councillor Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, which was also amongst the winners in 2011, endured losses too. Its share of the vote dropped from 5.4 to 4.1 %, with its seat count falling from 9 to 7.

The conservative camp regroups

The spectacular election victory of the SVP and FDP is further accentuated by the fact that the right-wing conservative block in the National Council, including the small right-wing parties Lega dei Ticinesi (2 seats) and Mouvement Citoyens Genevois (1 seat), now has an absolute majority with 101 seats. However, that does not mean an automatic majority. This majority may be significant in economic, social and tax policy issues, but it is meaningless in other areas. The FDP’s position differs greatly from that of the SVP over policy on Europe as the Free Democrats firmly support the bilateral approach.

However, one thing should not be forgotten as regards the election result: Switzerland has always been a typically conservative country with a clear conservative to right-wing majority. The political landscape was previously dominated by the once powerful Free Democrats and the no less dominant Catholic Conservatives, the CVP’s predecessor party, in alliance with the smaller Farmers’, Trades’ and Citizens’ Party (BGB, today the SVP). The political forces have now regrouped after a process lasting many years. The right-wing conservatives are hugely strengthened today in the form of the populist, right-leaning SVP and are thus following a Europe-wide trend.

The collapse of the centre parties is primarily explained by their lack of clear profile. They were also unable to join forces with the CVP. The surge of the Green Liberals and BDP may also turn out to be a flash in the pan. There have always been parties in Switzerland that have achieved remarkable success for a period before disappearing again. A shining example is the Alliance of Independents.

The current refugee crisis and the consequent accentuation of immigration policy proved disastrous for the SVP’s rivals. All other areas of politics, such as environmental issues, withdrawal from nuclear power and social matters, were overshadowed, and this also had an adverse impact on the Greens’ electoral performance. Uncertainty over the future of the economy probably brought the FDP votes, attracting many people to the business-oriented party with its long tradition.

Link to a further article "More candidates, more lists"

Link to a further article "Stability in the Council of States"

Link to a further article "Tensions run high over the Federal Council elections on 9 December"