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Europe

Swiss Election Boosts Right-Wing

The vote for a new parliament in Switzerland has resulted in an upset unheard of for decades. The right-wing People's Party with its isolationist policies has triumphed at the polls.

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Not even half of Switzerland's voters went to the polls on Sunday.

Swiss voters went to the polls to elect a new parliament on Sunday. Most of those who were interested cast their ballots by mail. But not many were interested. Only 43 percent of the 4.7 million voters were expected to cast a ballot at all, low turnout for a European democracy.

The Swiss aren't necessarily apathetic towards voting. Perhaps it's just difficult to get excited when the same parties have been in government for so long. The left-leaning Social Democrats (SP), the business-minded Radical Party (FDP) and the center-right Christian Democratic Party (CVP) have each held three cabinet seats since 1959. The then-smaller right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) made do with the seventh cabinet seat. Called the "magic formula," the four-party coalition has been the status quo ever since.

But that may yet change. Initial results say the People's Party (SVP) will win the largest share of power in the election. Party leaders have already said they will claim another cabinet seat at the likely expense of the Christian Democrats, whose fortunes appear to be waning. Projected results on Sunday evening gave the People’s Party a 27.2 percent share of the vote; the Social Democrats had 23.3 percent, the Radicals 16.8 percent and the Christian Democrats 14.3 percent. Final results will be published on Monday after all votes have been counted.

No short-term change

Despite the SVP's win, some analysts say the party may not gain the second cabinet position it covets when parliament chooses the cabinet in December. "I don't think the outcome of this election will lead to a dramatic overhaul of the 'magic formula,'" political analyst Hans Hirter told Swiss Radio International. "But maybe in two or three years time, when one of the Christian Democrat ministers resigns, we will see the true importance of the election for the People's Party's bid for a second government seat."

But Swiss observers point out that in their direct democracy, power rests not with parliament but with the people. Four times a year voters are summoned for referendums in which they have the final say on policy issues.

Consolidating support

Nevertheless, the SVP may continue to mobilize supporters with its isolationist policies which oppose Switzerland joining the EU and call for tougher asylum laws.

The party provoked controversy in the last few weeks with an aggressive poster campaign suggesting that immigrants were criminals. The first poster featured a caricatured black face and a slogan reading, "The Swiss are increasingly becoming the Negros." Following widespread criticism the poster was withdrawn.

In 2001, the People's Party sponsored a proposal to create tougher asylum laws aimed at discouraging economic migrants. The nationwide referendum was narrowly defeated with just 50.1 percent of the Swiss voted against the plan.

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