Far Right Gains in Switzerland
The new SVP seat might be filled by Christoph Blocher, the multi-millionaire industrialist who has helped the SVP boost its voting share from 11 percent in 1987 to almost 23 percent in 1999, and 27 percent this weekend.
One in Five
The SVP, which usually relies on German speakers, made its largest inroads in Switzerland's Francophone region. There, like elsewhere, immigration is the hot button issue.
The growing popularity of Blocher's anti-immigrant stance, like Le Pen's in France, is symptomatic of the cultural stresses of larger changes in Europe, including concessions of sovereignty to the EU, the Bush administration's heavy-handedness within NATO, increased mobility between nations, and immigration. In Switzerland, a country only double the size of New Jersey, one in five people is currently an immigrant resident or temporary foreign worker.
That's a significant percentage for a country that, until recently, was more like conservative Indiana than a melting pot like New York City. Unfortunately, unless the left moves beyond denouncing anti-immigrant bias to address immigrants' impact, or perceived impact, on things like the economy, social services, and daily life, the right will continue to monopolize the debate.
No "Magic Formula"
"A second seat in the Federal Council is obligatory after Sunday's political landslide," said SVP leader Ueli Maurer. Given the strong showing of the SVP in the last election, and the increasingly weak state of Christian Democrats, this comes as no surprise.
Since the Socialists did well in the elections, and will almost certainly keep their two seats, the practical impact of all this depends largely on how the conservatives allocate their seats to make more room for the SVP, and whether or not the new SVP member is willing to compromise.
So far Maurer staunchly backs the candidacy of the extremist Blocher. He has even threatened the unprecedented, to pull the SVP out of the government, and create an opposition if the businessman is not elected to the Federal Council. Blocher himself has pledged to hold a referendum demanding the constitution be changed to allow citizens to vote directly for the Federal Council.
This is probably just hot air. While the SVP got a plurality of the vote, the margin was slim, and nowhere near the numbers required to win a referendum. For now. However, SVP has momentum, and the balance could continue to shift.