View Full Version : Swiss right-wing party tops polls

19 Oct 03,, 23:58
Swiss right-wing party tops polls


ZURICH, Switzerland (Reuters) -- The Swiss right wing raced ahead in parliamentary elections on Sunday, winning votes on an anti-immigrant platform, and threatening to unsettle its coalition colleagues with a make-or-break bid for more power.

A polarization in voter sentiment saw support swing behind the isolationist Swiss People's Party (SVP), which edged out the left-leaning Social Democrats (SP) to become the biggest party in the lower house, a Swiss television projection showed.

In a surprise move, the SVP proposed party figurehead Christoph Blocher as its candidate for a second SVP cabinet seat in elections for the ruling, four-party coalition in December and threatened to pull out of the cabinet if he did not get in.

The move poses the greatest threat yet to the so-called magic formula power-sharing agreement, which was established in 1959 and has remained intact ever since as a byword for Swiss consensus politics and stability.

The deal reflected the parties' relative strength at the time, with the SVP holding one ministerial seat as junior partner and the other three main parties holding two each.

But with job queues rising and the economy struggling to pull out of a double-dip recession, the SVP has made inroads with Switzerland's middle-classes whose cosy existence is threatened.

"We have achieved a historic goal," SVP President Ueli Maurer said. "Either our second representative is elected into cabinet, as we propose, or we will step down from the cabinet... and put forward our policies from the opposition."

The SVP campaigns on a "closed borders" platform, shunning closer ties with Switzerland's European Union neighbors and playing on voters' fears over immigration and asylum.

Observers say SVP gains could spell the end for the spirit of cabinet compromise, especially if other parties veto the SVP's wish for an extra seat and force it into opposition. There it can continue its successful policy of garnering popular support for the nation's frequent referenda.

Blocher, head of the Zurich chapter of the SVP, has courted controversy in the past, facing allegations before the 1999 election that he praised a book which denied the Holocaust.

Right-wing gains
According to an initial projection, the anti-European Union SVP gained 4.7 percentage points to take 27.2 percent while the SP gained 0.8 percentage points to 23.3 percent. The liberal Free Democrats (FDP) were seen at 16.8 and the Christian Democrats (CVP) took 14.3 percent.

Official results, due on Monday, are expected to confirm that voters scrambled to either end of the political spectrum, bolstering the SVP on the right and the SP and Greens on the left at the expense of the waning centrist parties.

"The result looks superb for Switzerland," said billionaire industrialist Blocher. "The fact that the Swiss have expressed such trust in the SVP means they want a change in policy."

The SVP nipped at the heels of the left in the French-speaking west -- an indication of the rise of anti-foreigner sentiment in a traditionally liberal heartland.

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, criticized the SVP last week for what it described as a "nakedly anti-asylum" election campaign in which the SVP said the drug trade was "controlled by Albanians and black Africans."

In the German-speaking east, the SVP wooed the recession-hit nation's middle-classes to build on its gains of 1999 when it attracted comparison with the rise of Joerg Haider's Freedom Party in neighboring Austria.