Changes are clearly happening in the Swiss political balance. The right-wing UDC in Switzerland figured it would get a hefty score in the latest elections. Instead it fell short. It counted on around 30 percent of the votes, but with little more than 25 percent it lost seven seats in the National Council, the lower house of the Federal Assembly which holds legislative power.
One of the Council’s vice-presidents, the controversial Cristoph Blocher pointed the finger at other vote-losers, saying: “New parties like the liberal Greens and the Conservative Democratic Party (PBD)… they also lost votes. We didn’t lose a lot. We’re still the biggest party in Switzerland.”
Yet these elections indicated an ebb in the fortunes of traditional parties and rising support for new centrist parties, like the Green Liberal Party (GLP). The Christian Democratic People’s Party (PDC) and the centre-right Conservative Democratic Party also drew votes away from the right-wing UDC.
On Sunday evening, the heads of the big parties tallied their losses ahead of next morning’s headlines (such as ‘earthquake!’) which signalled the end of Switzerland’s neat polar split and suggested that Swiss voters no longer have the same confidence in the traditional parties.
Only the Socialists held their head up. In percentage they dropped slightly, but they gained two seats. Taken together, however, the left weakened, as the Greens lost seven seats and were shunted out of the way by a new political force… the group Liberal Ecology,
a recent development in Switzerland, centrist rather than left-leaning Greens, who link environmental concern with economic liberalism.
“We are the party of the 21st century,” its leader Isabelle Chevalley said. “Today, people understand ecology. It’s not just campaign slogans. It’s part of our everyday lives, and yet people are conscious we can’t let it weigh the economy down.”
But how to decide the composition of the future government now? Two seats each for the three big parties and one for the right-wing UDC is the usual power-share in the seven-member Federal executive Council. But the UDC might not settle for that this time. And the small parties who made clear gains in the election want this reflected in the Federal Council.
The negotiating in the parliament is expected to heat up. The deadline is mid-December.
With the UDC, the Democratic Union of the Centre, on the decline for the first time in eight years, euronews spoke to Pierre Gobet, the political editor of TSR, the French-language Swiss television service.
Fabien Farge, euronews: Does this drop for the UDC, the populist right, mark a turning-point in the Swiss Confederation’s political history?
Pierre Gobet, TSR: Well yes, because this party of the populist conservative right-wing had really reached record heights in the political landscape four years ago. And it has been winning points and percentages in the polls for the last 20 years.
This result under the leadership of the Zurich billionaire Christoph Blocher, is important. The UDC had come to dominate the Swiss political landscape, often fixing the agenda and overturning political niceties.
euronews: This election has also been marked by the clear progression of two parties: the Green Liberals and the Conservative Democratic Party. Why have these two groups done well?
Gobet: To describe these two briefly: the PBD or
Conservative Democratic Party is the result of a split in the UDC, and the Green Liberals is a new type of party that combines the ecology and liberalism. They’re challenging in particular the two parties that have formed the backbone of Swiss politics, the Radical Liberals and the Christian Democrats.
euronews: On the whole Switzerland is viewed as a pocket of economic stability in continental Europe that’s in the middle of a major crisis not least in the euro zone. Have immigration and the rise of the Swiss franc been issues in this election?
Gobet: Immigration is always a major issue. It’s the main issue for the right wing conservative UDC and has been for a long time. The UDC built a big part of its success on the subject over the past 20 years, but this time you get the impression that the formula hasn’t worked so well. It has to be said that since the summer Switzerland has been in an enviable economic position compared to its neighbours. But the country has faced a very strong rise in the value of its currency, the franc, and that’s causing problems for Swiss exporters, who form a vital part of the economy.”
euronews: Now we can expect the formation of a new Federal Council by mid-December. What routes can Switzerland take now, and how will relations develop, particularly with the EU?
Gobet: It the big thing, and for the moment is stalled in Switzerland: relations with the European Union. They’re based on a series of bilateral agreements on specific subjects, but we know the EU would like to develop them. On the other hand, we also know that the Swiss don’t want a greater institutional commitment, or closer ties with the European Union.