Polls closed in Switzerland on Sunday, Oct. 21, ending what may become known as the most acrimonious campaigning in Swiss history. Accusations of racism in the far-right Swiss People Party were the focus of the campaign.
The Swiss parliamentary election campaign descended into violent chaos recently
Votes were being counted after a relatively strong turnout estimated at about 50 percent of the 4.9 million voters.
The last opinion poll by Swiss television on Oct. 10 indicated that the Swiss People's Party (SVP) was set to win 27.3 percent of the vote, 0.6 percent more than its score in the 2003 election. The left-of-center Social Democratic Party (SP/PS) at 21.7 percent while the Christian Democratic Party (CVP/PDC/PPD) and the Radicals (FDP/PRD) were neck and neck with 15.4 and 15.5 percent respectively.
The SVP and its leader, Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, were intensely criticized for a campaigning stance focusing on immigration and crime.
The SVP's black sheep campaign has lost it few voters
Despite being denounced by the UN special rapporteur on racism for inciting racial hatred in its xenophobic campaigning and for pledging to deport non-national criminals, the SVP has struck a chord with voters in a country where one in five people is foreign.
Attempts to label the party as extremist have also failed to derail the SVP campaign. Its now notorious campaign poster of a black sheep being kicked out of a field by three white sheep caused outrage with politicians from the other parties but has done little to reduce its growing popularity.
The SVP campaign also seems to have benefited from the recent outbreak of violence in Switzerland which, as one observer put it, replaced the "chocolates and cuckoos" image with one of smashed cars, crushed campaign stands and unflattering headlines in the foreign press about the threat to Swiss democracy.
Left-wing violence plays into SVP's hands
It is widely assumed that the riots in Berne on Oct. 6 may have played directly into the SVP's hands.
Police fought protestors with tear gas and batons
Switzerland was shocked to see scenes of running battles on the streets of the Swiss capital with police armed with tear gas fighting back left-wing radicals who disrupted a SVP march. There were 20 people injured, 18 of them officers as the rally in the Federal Square descended into baton charges under a hail of paving stones and bottles.
Until then, the focus of the opposition parties had been on exposing the SVP as an extremist organization, in contrast to its self-appointed position at the heart of family, cultural and national values in Switzerland. Since the riots, the People's Party has been using the violence to garner further sympathy.
Blocher, a millionaire businessman and the minister of justice in the cabinet, blamed the unrest on "the irresponsibility of a left-wing sowing chaos."
President blames general intolerance
Swiss President Calmy-Rey called for dialogue and tolerance
The Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey has refused to blame neither left nor right for the divisions and recriminations which have besmirched the campaign, choosing instead to blame everyone, saying the intolerance of the poster campaigns had now spilled onto the streets.
While the right and left wing parties wage their ideological battles away from the streets and back on the podium, the Green Party continues to make steady gains which, if the rate of their progress is sustained, could be instrumental in the formation of the government.
The Greens -- the most popular party not represented in the cabinet -- could see the strongest gain in support on Sunday. The latest polls see them heading for 10 percent of the vote, up 2.6 percent on the 2003 election, with some observers also predicting that they could further increase that and force their way into government. A strong Green showing at the election may be enough to reduce the majority of the SVP.
For that to happen, however, the SVP would have to lose ground and while the People's Party stands to have less votes than it did in the 2003 election, it is unlikely that they will lose enough to stop them becoming the majority party in the Swiss parliament.