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From the January 2003 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 51, No. 1)

Europe

Switzerland: Right-Wing Surge

Tekla Szymanski, World Press Review associate editor

SVP election poster
A Swiss People's Party election poster in Zurich is defaced with the words "Hell to the Fascists" (Photo: Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP-Getty Images).
“This is a gaga election,” the mass-circulation Blick snapped on Oct. 2. “We are not this stupid.” But Switzerland’s image as a role model of racial tolerance, consensus, and internationalism did suffer in the Oct. 19 parliamentary elections: The nationalist, xenophobic Swiss People’s Party (SVP) scored a “historic election victory” (Tages-Anzeiger, Oct. 20), winning 27.7 percent of the vote and transforming itself into the largest party in Parliament, up from only 11 percent in 1991. “Never since World War II has a Swiss party been that powerful,” warned Eric Hoesli in Le Temps (Oct. 20). “The message is clear: The majority of Swiss want change.”

Le Temps went on to say that the outcome of the vote “shattered political certainties” and could sound the death knell for the current consensus system of government. Under this system—a power-sharing arrangement known as the “magic formula” that has been in place since 1959—Cabinet seats are shared among Switzerland’s four main parties. “This magic formula has now taken a direct hit,” wrote Le Temps (Oct. 20), and Neue Zürcher Zeitung predicted the same day that “an overhaul of one of the sacred cows of Swiss politics is no longer unthinkable.”

The leader of the SVP, the millionaire industrialist-turned-politician Christoph Blocher, 63, is a champion of isolationism and a fierce opponent of the European Union. He brazenly blames crime on the country’s immigrants (who make up 20 percent of the population) and on “black Africans” who come knocking on Switzerland’s doors. Blocher’s onslaught against asylum-seekers and foreigners won him the label “Haider for the Swiss people” [Jörg Haider is the leader of Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party—WPR]. Blocher’s message is clear: His campaign posters featured a caricature of a black face accompanied by the slogan, “The Swiss Are Becoming Negroes.”

On Dec. 10, Parliament will choose the seven-member governing Federal Council. With the SVP’s sweeping victory—the party received an additional 11 seats and will have 55 seats in the 200-member Parliament—Blocher himself is standing for a ministerial post in the council. With its strong showing, the SVP will hold two seats in the council (as will the other parties) and will work to push through tough action against foreigners and tighter asylum rules.

Nevertheless, according to much of the Swiss press, the SVP, “a real national party” (24 Heures), has a legitimate right to seek a second Cabinet seat. “It is no longer possible for the parties to avoid reality,” remarked Le Temps dryly (Oct. 20). And Le Matin concluded (Oct. 20): “The Swiss have chosen populism…this is a cultural revolution.”

It could, however, be more than that. In its Oct. 20 editorial, Le Temps predicted that “the coming weeks will become turbulent. Switzerland is experiencing a political earthquake.”

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