Only one man can win the real election this weekend

May 7, 2010, 1 Comment

The Swiss love voting, so it was no surprise to see that both Switzerland’s freebie commuter papers (20 Minuten and Blick am Abend) had the election on the front page today – except that it wasn’t the one in Britain. The main evening news in Switzerland tonight might have led with the British result, or lack thereof, but the only election many Swiss people are really interested in this weekend is the one tomorrow in Geneva for Mister Schweiz.

The Mister Schweiz (it’s never referred to as Herr Schweiz, Monsieur Suisse or Signore Svizzera) election is big news every year. It’s shown live on the main Swiss channel, with popular ratings success, and the winner seems to stay permanently in the news all year, though not always for the right reasons. The 2008 winner, Stephan Weiler, was famous for his hastily-corrected crooked front teeth, an unfortunate underwear photo shoot and his lack of personality (he was dubbed Lang-weiler, basically meaning Mr Boring). The current title-holder, André Reithebuch, may look like a young Richard Gere but has the brain power of Homer Simpson. Having won, he was brave enough to confess to having trouble reading and writing, but then lost the ensuing sympathy by saying that women can only get pregnant at full moon and that Mutterkuchen is a cake given on Mother’s Day. That might be the literal translation (Mutter is mother and Kuchen is cake) but it actually means the placenta. And all that said on TV too.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Mister Schweiz election is that it’s big business for the winner. Renzo Blumenthal, 2005 winner, went on to found his own organic label for sausages and cheese (he’s a farmer) while Herr Reithebuch has earned almost half a million francs this year in fees and sponsoring. The title this year brings with it a new car and over 65,000 francs in prizes, including rather bizarrely 5,000-francs worth of socks. That’s an awful lot of socks.

But like every election in Switzerland, it has a dark side. No black sheep posters but still there is xenophobia. When André Reithebuch, from Canton Glarus, beat an Italian immigrant (but naturalised Swiss citizen) last year, one comment in a paper said it was better to have a boring Eidgenosse than a beautiful Secondo (Eidgenosse means a real Swiss person from the heart of the country, while Secondos are second-generation immigrants). This year one of the favourites is Bern busdriver Goran Cvetkov, born in Macedonia but now Swiss, who has said he’s already faced unfriendly comments about his heritage. At least openly gay candidates are now allowed; they used to be excluded, probably because they didn’t quite fit in with the image the sponsors wanted.

So who will win the two-hour voting marathon? For sure he won’t be a short teenage foreigner with a girlfriend and drug problems. The rules say that candidates must be at least 20 years old, 1.78m tall, Swiss, single and of good character; they also are subject to the same drug-testing rules as Olympic athletes. No, really they are. And tomorrow night they have to get through four rounds: ‘Freizeit’ looks at their sportiness, ‘Body’ is self-explanatory, ‘Elegant’ judges their faces, and ‘Interview’ tests their ability to answer inane questions. With the public voting at each stage, it’s rather like Switzerland’s Got Talent, with the emphasis firmly on the other meaning of talent. As for a joke about hung parliaments and elected members, I won’t even go there. Let’s just hope the swimwear round isn’t too revealing. You can check out the 16 finalists here.

But back to London. For the Swiss, like most other Europeans, having no party with a clear majority is nothing new; government is all about compromise and coalitions not confrontation. They seem to be rather bemused by the blatant unfairness of the British electoral system and the way the lack of a clear result has produced political turmoil. Watching from this distance, I can see what they mean. Perhaps next time the British electorate should just have a phone vote for Mr Britain, though hopefully without having the candidates parade in swim-shorts. That’d be enough to put you off politics forever.

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