Lessons I’ve learned from a Swiss election
October 23, 2011, 7 Comments
It’s decision day for the Swiss but only because today is the day when the votes are counted. Most people have voted already, either by post or yesterday in person. Today the polls close at noon, giving any last-minute voters only four hours in which to play their part. So different from Britain or America, where election day is usually marked by queues at the polling booths and is the last hurrah of a long and exhausting campaign. Neither adjective could apply to a Swiss election. In typical Swiss fashion it’s been a calm and polite affair, but interesting all the same. And I learnt a few things about Switzerland in the process.
- Voting is complicated. Nothing as simple as X marks the spot, which is why m0st people do it at home (or not at all). Election papers arrive in the post 2-3 weeks before so you have time to think and fill out the forms. Almost all of the voters queueing at the polls yesterday where there just to drop their votes in the ballot box. The single voting booth went unused.
- Swiss elections rarely make a big splash in the outside world. I guess I was spoilt in 2007, when the black sheep posters made the headlines in other countries, because this time there was barely a flicker. The one story in the whole election campaign that registered abroad was the SVP mascot goat being kidnapped and sprayed black.
- But even the Swiss media didn’t report on it much this past week. On Wednesday night, the main evening news had 12 stories, not one of them about the election. Four days before polling day, that would never happen elsewhere. Maybe SF1 just decided that everyone had voted already so it was no longer a story?
- Money talks, even in a country where it’s never a subject for polite conversation. The SVP spent millions more than any other party and it showed – its posters were everywhere, so much so that I began to wonder if I was living in a one-party state.
- And talking of money, there are no rules about party finances in Switzerland. No controls, no limits, no transparency. The SVP’s millions might have come from its sugar daddy (aka Christoph Blocher) or equally from big business, the banks, or abroad. We will never know.
- There are lots of little parties out there . We hear so much about the seven main parties (see this post for a run-down) that it’s easy to forget the others. So in Bern, for example, there’s the Alpenparlament, the Eidgenössisch-Demokratische Union or EDU, the Work Party (or Partei der Arbeit), the evangelical EVP, and a whole assortment of others. It’s like a pick-and-mix chocolate selection.
- The SVP doesn’t look quite so bad when you read about the Schweizer Democraten candidate who gave the Nazi salute at Buchenwald concentration camp. Or look through the manifesto of PNOS, the Swiss Nationalist Party. Suddenly Erich Hess seems rather cuddly.
- This election is in fact just the first round of the real vote, one where the people aren’t involved. That is on 14 December, when parliament elects the new government. Now that the Foreign Minister isn’t standing again, and the small BDP may not win enough votes to protect their Finance Minister, this government election should be more exciting than most.
Campaign over, counting begins. And it’s normal Swiss voters who have to do that. It’s a bit like jury service – any registered voter can be called upon to count. As a foreigner I can’t cast a vote, but at least I don’t have to sit and count them either. I’ll post all the results here this week.