Richard Gere wins – but only just

March 6, 2011, No comments

Three weeks ago he had a clear lead. Today that was cut to just a few thousand but it was still enough to win. Canton Bern’s newest member of the Ständerat is Adrian Amstutz, aka the Richard Gere of Swiss politics. He won 50.6% of the vote in the second round of a by-election, and so moved up from the lower to the upper house of the Swiss Federal parliament. For his party, the right-wing SVP, it’s a great start to an election year. Now with seven seats, it’s still only the fourth-largest party in the ‘Stöckli’, as the upper house is nicknamed, but it won this crucial battle with the Social Democrats. The next goal: to get over 30% of the vote in the general election in October – when Amstutz will also have to defend his freshly-won seat. I wonder if today’s close loser, Ursula Wyss, will stand again?

She won the vote in Bern itself, Biel and Jura, but his lead in country areas like Simmental, Emmental and the Oberland was too big to overcome. A turnout of 46.3% doesn’t sound very high but, given that no other vote or referendum was taking place in Bern today, it’s actually a good figure in Swiss terms.

Amstutz is known for his direct confrontational style and ultra-conservative policies, particularly his anti-EU stance. He’s also a former world parachuting champion, having served in the army parachute regiment, before going on to win the title in 1978. Far more exciting is his presidency of the Schweizerischer Nutzfahrzeugverband (Swiss haulage truck association). You’d think that would be enough for someone in the press to make a joke about him being in politics for the long-haul, but no. Maybe it doesn’t translate.

So Adrian/Richard is off to ruffle some feathers in the normally sedate Stöckli. It only has 46 members, so always seems rather cosy, like an exclusive little club. His seat in the Nationalrat, or lower house, passes to Thomas Fuchs from Bern – at least until October. He’s a larger-than-life politician who has been polarising opinion in Bern for years, not least because he’s gay and SVP. On his website he answers 175 personal questions, which is far more than I ever wanted to know about him. I think I’ll stick with the image his opponents used last year: Thomas and his little SVP sidekick Erich Hess as Laurel & Hardy, or as they’re known in German: Dick & Doof, fat and daft. Just about right.

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