Now that the last seat in the National Council has been filled (see below), attention switches to the Council of States. Officially it’s called the Ständerat in German, but in dialect it’s usually referred to as the Stöckli. Such as cosy Swiss name for a cosy Swiss institution, with just 46 members and none of that nasty thing called confrontational politics. There are still 19 seats waiting to be won, as the empty blobs show, and for that a second round is needed. Here’s what’s going on:
The Ständerat is the Swiss equivalent of the US Senate, with the cantons having equal representation, no matter how big or small they are. Each gets two seats (with the half-cantons logically getting one) and for most of them the vote is based not on proportional representation but on first-past-the-post. So last Sunday candidates had to get over 50% to be elected; where no-one managed that, then a second round takes place – and in that it’s just whoever gets the most votes wins. No 50% majority is needed, and that will make a crucial difference in seats where there are more than two candidates.
There are six cantons where both seats are still up for grabs – Bern, Lucerne, Ticino, Valais, Vaud and Zurich. These are likely to be the tightest races, especially in Bern and Zurich, for example, where more than two candidates are still in the running. Voters get two votes (one for each seat) so it could all come down to just a handful of votes and possibly some tactical voting. In the other seven cantons – Aargau, Schaffhausen, Schwyz, Solothurn, St Gallen, Thurgau and Uri – one seat has already been filled, the other still vacant, so voters only get one vote. All the votes are staggered over a few Sundays:
- 6 November: Valais
- 13 November: Schaffhausen, Thurgau, Vaud
- 20 November: Bern, Ticino
- 27 November: Aargau, Lucerne, Schwyz, St Gallen, Uri, Zurich
- 4 December: Solothurn
Plenty of action but the most interesting races to watch won’t just be the most obvious. So alongside the three-horse neck-and-neck contest in Bern and Christoph Blocher’s attempt to win in Zurich are a potential disaster for the FDP in Solothurn (where it stands to lose a seat held since 1848) and a potential celebration for the SVP in St Gallen (where party president Toni Brunner leads a fractured field). Not forgetting Vaud, where the FDP & SVP have joined forces to try to oust both the sitting left-wingers, whereas in Aargau those two parties are scrapping with each other for the remaining seat.
With no majority necessary the winners could be barely ahead of the losers. Or there could even be a tie, in which case lots will be drawn, as happened in the Nationalrat vote in Ticino last week. Six seats had clear winners but the seventh produced two candidates, both from the CVP, who had each won 23,979 votes. Now you would think that would trigger a recount, but no. This is Switzerland, and to have a recount would imply that a mistake had been made in the first place so instead a computer picked one of the two names at random – the modern version of drawing lots. Unlucky for Marco Romano, good news for Monica Duca Widmer, who’s off to Bern. Of course, they could have let a court decide the winner. Then again, this isn’t America.
And once all those elections are over, the big one takes place on 14 December: electing the Federal Council. The jockeying in that race has already begun and it looks set to be a real humdinger. Will the SVP get a second seat? Can Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf survive? Will anyone know who Johann Schneider Amman is for long enough to vote for him? All this and more will be answered live on breakfast television. I’ll be watching.