Swiss elections: the final stage

December 4, 2011, 2 Comments

Switzerland swings to the left! Now that the last results of the Swiss parliamentary elections are in the final picture is clear – and it’s not a good one for the right. Not only did both the right-wing parties – the far right SVP and centre right FDP – lose badly in the first round on October 23rd but they have staggered to more disasters in the second rounds over the past few weeks. In the Ständerat, or Upper House, the SVP is at now its lowest strength in 20 years, with all of its star candidates failing dismally, while today the FDP lost its Solothurn seat for the first time since 1848. In contrast, the Social Democrats (SP) have won 11 seats, more than ever before, including ones in traditional right strongholds like St Gallen and Aargau. Quite a turnaround from four years ago.

It all looked so different a few weeks ago. The SVP had spent millions on its poster campaign focusing purely on immigration, so that places like Zurich main station appeared to have been transplanted into a one-party state. Its leaders confidently predicted 30% of the vote and storming into the Ständerat, but neither happened. They didn’t even get close. And that despite none of the other parties really having a memorable campaign or knowing how to counter-attack the (up until then) all-conquering forces of Blocher and Brunner. So what happened?

The Swiss woke up; simple as that. After years of living in a fairyland dreamt up by the SVP, the Swiss finally remembered that the real world exists and it doesn’t owe Switzerland anything. No nation is an island, least of all a landlocked one at the centre of Europe. The Swiss economy relies heavily on its foreign residents (who make up 25% of wage earners) and its trading partners, most of whom use the euro. Attacking both these groups all the time might have been a winner while the sun was shining, but it was a big loser for the SVP now that the world economy is faltering. Banging the xenophobic drum is all very well until people’s pockets start to feel empty; then you might as well bang your head against a brick wall, which is how the SVP must feel now.

Added to that was the air of arrogance and self-importance that the SVP had cultivated, and neither trait is ever that popular in Switzerland. This is a country where ego is shunned and politics is traditionally about consensus and policies rather than confrontation and personality. No wonder that all the big SVP lions were tamed. Party leaders Brunner, Amstutz, Baader and Rime all failed to get into the Ständerat, and party guru Christoph Blocher limped home in third, not just in Canton Zurich in his own community as well. The cult of Blocher is dead. Maybe now Swiss politics can get back to what it does best: finding practical solutions to the country’s problems by talking to each other rather than shouting and breast-beating. That’s been the secret of Swiss success so far.

By the way, one result was overturned last week. In this previous post, I explained how one seat in Ticino was decided by computer after both candidates won exactly the same number of votes. The court decided that the drawing of lots had been unfairly handled as neither candidate had been present and it wasn’t conducted in public. So it was done again, the old-fashioned way with two names in a bag and one drawn out in front of the media. Thanks to that it’s now Marco Romano who will be in the Nationalrat for Ticino. An odd way to win but nothing about this election was normal.

Now the stage is set for the elections to the Federal Council, or Bundesrat, on December 14th. All seven members of the government will be elected live on television and I’ll be tweeting as the votes are counted: follow me @dicconb. Before then, I’ll explain the process involved and look at what might happen. It promises to be an interesting election.

Leave a Comment