Monday, 19 October 2015

Not a good day for Swiss politics

As protestors in recent clashes in Bern this weekend feared, Switzerland's vote yesterday saw the extremely right-wing SVP claiming 65 seats in the new National Council, giving it a right-wing majority for the first time ever.

Turnout was around 47%, fairly normal for a Swiss general election, but the SVP managed to achieve a historic high of 29.4% by spending more money than any other party – it seems money buys votes in Switzerland as it does everywhere else.

So what does this mean? In Swiss politics a majority in parliament isn't as dramatic as in Britain but it is still a big result and will dictate the path Switzerland takes over the next four years. Although Switzerland is a direct democracy, meaning that voters have a say through referenda, around 75% of all decisions are taken by parliament without asking the people.

Most immediately it will affect the election of the Swiss government, the Federal Council, which takes place on 9 December. The seven Federal Councillors are elected by both houses of parliament together, with a simple majority needed to elect each member. Although these particular elections often produce surprises, a second seat for the SVP is now almost a foregone conclusion, meaning that the right will then have four seats and a majority in government as well.

The SVP made the refugee crisis in Europe the main topic of debate, even though Switzerland has barely been affected by the recent migration so far. So this result is very disturbing. The right-wing majority is also likely to replace the Swiss political tradition of consensus with confrontation –for example, over immigration, over pensions, nuclear energy – as well as confrontation with anyone who disagrees with them.

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