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.

7 Comments on "Lessons I’ve learned from a Swiss election"

  1. Evamaria Sunday October 23rd, 2011 at 08:20 PM · Reply

    There’s even weirder little parties out there – for example in a couple of cantons (Bern for one) there’s a Tierpartei (animal party), and here in Basel I saw a list Freistaat Kleinbasel (free state Kleinbasel, the part of Basel on the North side of the Rhine)… And there’s also the Swiss branch of the Piratenpartei (Pirate Party, originally from Sweden).

    I actually didn’t know about the counting duty – no one I know has ever been called to do it. But when I was in secondary school we earned a bit of money filling the election envelopes.

  2. Daniel Sunday October 23rd, 2011 at 08:54 PM · Reply

    Hi everyone 🙂 Im Swiss and from Nidwalden.. Unfortunately, the only thing I could do in this whole voting-ceremony was really just to cross one single box, since our Ständerat was already re-elected, due to a lack if another candidate.. and we only elect one NR. And quite obviously it’s been useless, since I didn’t vote for Mr Keller.. By the way, great web page :-))

    • swisswatching Sunday October 23rd, 2011 at 09:24 PM · Reply

      Thanks. I saw that but still don’t understand why there was no other candidiate in the Ständerat vote. What were all the other parties doing?

      • Daniel Monday October 24th, 2011 at 06:46 PM · Reply

        Between the parties it was generally agreed, that they would leave things as they are, and if the FDP wouldn’t candidate for the Ständerat, the SVP wouldn’t candidate either. All the parties (inculding SVP) said they would stand for “Sachpolitik”, not party-politics. Sorry for my vocabulary, I dont know every translation 🙂

  3. Patrick Sunday October 23rd, 2011 at 11:06 PM · Reply

    Well, apparently the SVP “lost” the elections according to latest result projections, down from 28.9% in 2007 to 25.9% in 2011, and will be down from 62 to 55 seats in the Nationalrat. Also, their attempt to “storm” the Ständerat went nowhere, quite the contrary (it seems likely they will even lose their seat in Aargau, which always seemed to be a rather SVP-friendly canton) – despite all the money and the posters everywhere – so I think there’s a good chance that there will never be more than 30% of the Swiss voting SVP. The big winner, the media say, are the new moderate centre parties – isn’t that very Swiss? 😉

  4. Roger Monday January 23rd, 2012 at 11:59 PM · Reply

    You write that you realized by surprise, there were no more “news” about election, the week before 23rd of October. I am a bit surprised to hear you were surprised. I am not sure, whether it is written law, or unwritten, to stop talking in tv and radio on election topics the week before the “election day”. If I am right, it is because you can give your votes one week ahead by electronic means. So it is kind of “mute to all”, once election has begun. However hardly anyone these days puts his papers into the box during the weekend. Everybody that I know either votes on the internet, or does so by snail mail, in which case, may possibly do so well more than a week ahead.

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