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Switzerland - Political Parties

Politically speaking, the Federal Assembly is not divided into parties, but into parliamentary groups. The groups comprise members of the same party or of similarly-platformed parties. A parliamentary group is therefore not necessarily to be equated with a party. At least five members from the same Council are needed to form a parliamentary group. Only informal groups exist in the Council of States.

The parliamentary groups play an important part in opinion-forming processes. They examine the main issues (elections and current issues) before they are submitted to the Councils and attempt to reach a common position, which the members of parliament can defend before their Council, as well as before the media and the general public. In the National Council, members are required to be in a parliamentary group in order to be eligible to sit on a committee.

There are many different political parties in Switzerland. There are parties that exist only at communal or cantonal level, while other parties are active in all the cantons. The Swiss political landscape is distinguished above all by its stability. Four parties predominate and have been represented in government for decades. The Radicals claim to be Switzerland's largest political party, with 120,000 members, followed by the Christian Democrats at 100,000, the People's Party at 90,000, and the Social Democrats at 34,000 (all figures as of 2007). The membership figures do not reflect the importance of the parties in parliament.

The center-right Radical Party is traditionally perceived as close to the business community. It is the party of the founding fathers of modern-day Switzerland in 1848 and merged with the Liberals in 2009. By 2017 it was the third largest group in the House of Representatives behind the Swiss Peoples Party and the Social Democratic Party, and the first party in the Senate alongside the Christian Democratic Party.

The center-right Christian Democratic Party was traditionally a conservative Catholic party but has moved to the center of the political spectrum. Despite a loss of voters in recent years, it succeeded in maintaining its strength in parliament. The Christian Democrats were the biggest group in the Senate in 2017, alongside the Radical Party.

While there is occasional discussion in the Swiss media of the possibility of a merger of the two mid-spectrum parties, no one expects this to happen. The deep-seated stability of the Swiss political system derives from the enormous advantage of incumbency. Sitting officials are almost never turned out by the voters, leaving candidates to fight over seats that come open due to retirement or other reasons.

The left-wing Social Democratic Party lost ground in recent years but is still the second-largest group in the House of Representatives and the third biggest in the Senate. It is made up mainly of representatives from French-speaking Switzerland and of the trade unions. The Socialist Party standard issues of a strong social safety net and openness to the EU have had less and less resonance with Swiss voters in recent years.

Meanwhile, a strong and growing environmental consciousness is luring many former SP supporters to the Greens. However, the growth potential of the Greens was limited. As a fringe party, they can only realistically hope to win seats in the larger cantons, where a smaller share of the vote is sufficient to win a seat, and in these areas the Greens already have established themselves as a political force. Even surpassing 10% of the vote (7.4% in 2003) would add no more than 2-3 seats to its 13 as of 2007. What's more, the extreme-left Green party faces competition on environmental issues from the Green conservative party, which is emerging as a political force to be reckoned with. Only on environmental issues do the Green sister-parties see eye-to-eye.

The most defining change in the political landscape since the 1960s has been the rise of the conservative right Swiss People's Party to become the strongest political party in Switzerland.During the 1990s, the People's Party positioned itself as an opposition party from the right, voicing opposition to Switzerland's opening up to international organisations like the UN and the European Union.

Under the leadership of Christoph Blocher, the right wing SVP had propelled itself over two decades into a leadership position in Switzerland, with the polls in 2007 predicting it taking a historic high of about 27% of the vote - though just slightly higher than its previous national election result of 26.7%. The SVP set the agenda for the 2007 election with its theme of protecting Switzerland against what the SVP sees as unwanted, unlawful foreigners. Their ubiquitous posters depicting three white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag won them less than flattering international media coverage and general scorn from left-wing and pro-immigrant groups inside of Switzerland. But this campaign strategy allowed them to consolidate their base.

In 2008, following the ousting of Blocher, the party disowned its two moderate ministers. This led to the creation of a new party, the centre-right Conservative Democratic Party. In 2015, taking a hard line on immigration and asylum, the People's Party increased its share of the vote from 26.6% to 29.4% and 65 seats in the House, the best result of a Swiss political party in history. They currently have 68 of the 200 seats in the House, 25 more than second party Social Democrats.

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