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Switzerland - 2007 Election

The Swiss national parliamentary elections on October 21 marked measured shifts of political support from the center to the two extremes, with power still shared by all of the current major political parties. On 21 October 2007 elections were held for all 200 seats in the National Council and 41 of the 46 seats in the Council of States.

In the previous elections held in 2003 the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP/UDC) personified by the charismatic billionaire Mr. Christoph Blocher came in first with 55 seats in the National Council followed by the Socialist Party (SP/PS) with 52 seats. The Radical-Democratic Party (FDP/PRD) the Christian-Democratic People's Party (CVP/PDC) and the Green Party (GPS/PES) won 36 28 and 13 seats respectively. The remainder went to small parties. These main parties except for the GPS/PES also gained seats in the Council of States. The CVP/PDC came in first with 15 seats followed by the FDP/PRD with 14 seats. The SP/PS and the SVP/UDC took nine and eight seats respectively.

Switzerland has a multi-party system with long-standing existence of political parties at federal and cantonal level. The political party landscape is characterized by stability and decentralization. Cantonal branches of parties enjoy full autonomy in determining campaign issues and strategies. The following four parties are represented in the government: the Swiss Peoples Party (SVP) with two members, the Social Democratic Party (SP) with two members, the Radical Free Democratic Party (FDP) with two members and the Christian Democratic Peoples Party (CVP) with one member. Another 11 parties are represented in the parliament with the Green Party being the strongest of the non-governmental parties.

The bicameral parliament is elected every four years. Elections to the National Council take place on the third Sunday in October. Generally elections to the Council of States take place at the same time as the elections to the National Council, except in two cantons which elect their state councillors earlier. While the organization of the elections to the National Council is the joint responsibility of the cantons and the Confederation, the elections to the Council of States are within the sole competency of the cantons.

The 200 members of the National Council are elected through a proportional system representing the Swiss people. Cantons with only one member in the National Council have a majority election system. Seats are allocated according to the population of the cantons with each seat representing on average 36,000 citizens. The number of seats per canton varies from 34 for the canton Zrich to one for the canton Uri. The distribution of seats is reconsidered every ten years after a population census.

The electoral campaign was generally conducted through interviews, round tables, debates, and canvassing with leaflets, and was covered by both the electronic and print media. However, advertisements were only permitted in printed media since electronic media advertising is not allowed during the campaign by federal law. The parties also made use of the internet by inserting their political platforms, slogans, photos videos, petitions, candidate meeting agendas during the campaign and, in some cases, creating blogs with the voters. In addition, local electoral campaign tradition played an important role. The campaign for the Council of States was characterised by a stronger personalization focusing on the candidates qualities more than the respective party platform. This was also due to the smaller number of seats available.

Within the cantons the municipalities created different opportunities for political parties, such as in Luzern Canton where four municipalities out of 96 decided to collect all parties leaflets and send all them together in one envelope to each voter, with the commune paying the postal cost. In Lausanne commune the cost of posting billboards was around two Swiss francs, while in the rest of the Vaud canton it was around 48 Swiss francs.

The 2007 campaign took place in a competitive manner with reported record levels of campaign expenditure by candidates and political parties. At present, expenditures are not required to be disclosed or reported to the public, and this issue is becoming increasingly controversial in the election process. Many national and local issues were debated and raised during the campaign period. The final few weeks of the election campaign were dominated by the controversy over a political poster, issued by one of the dominant political parties, which many perceived as conveying a racist message.

The main issues to emerge during the campaign were the state of the environment, and closer to voting day, immigration. This issue came to the national forefront with the issuance of the Swiss Peoples Party (SVP/UDC) campaign poster that featured three white sheep kicking a black one away from the Swiss flag. The poster was perceived by many as racist and as playing on voters fear of immigrants. It also generated a protest in Bern on 6 October 2007 at an SDP/UDC rally, where demonstrators opposed to the poster campaign clashed with policemen.

The proposal initiated in spring 2007 to seek the required 100,000 signatures for launching a federal vote to ban minaret (mosque) construction contributed to this aspect of the campaign. In addition, the SVP/UDC started to collect signatures for a nationwide vote to introduce the expulsion of condemned underage resident foreigners with their families, implying that criminal activities are not personal but a family based responsibility. As a result of this polarising issue, the billboards of Mr. Blocher (SVP/UDC), who was also the Federal Minister of Justice, were vandalised on many occasions as he was strongly associated with this campaign.

Along with national issues, many other topics had an impact during the campaign at the cantonal and communal level, and specific local issues played an important role in the campaign. In Lausanne, for example, the issues of the construction of a third railway line connecting Lausanne to Geneva received much attention.

The "magic formula" for Swiss concordance democracy did not appear to be at risk in this election, even though the campaign has been the most vitriolic and controversial in memory. What was new was the concentration of campaigning on certain individuals rather than parties, with Blocher occupying the headlines, even if he is one of the least beloved of all the Federal Counselors, as opinion polls suggest. The gradual shift away from the political middle over the past years has been one of degrees rather than huge increments, and the basic middle class interests represented by the FDP and CVP are still the largest single political force, making it possible for them to continue acting as a social and political stabilizer, if only in their role as a spoiler in the face of unwanted extreme initiatives by either end of the political spectrum.

On December 12, 2007, the center-left parliamentary caucuses refused to re-elect the SVP's Christoph Blocher (then-Justice Minister) to the Federal Council, and instead elected Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, a SVP cantonal minister from Graubunden. As a result Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf was excluded from the SVP parliamentary caucus and joined instead the Conservative Democratic Party (CDP). On December 10, 2008, SVP Ueli Maurer was elected to the Federal Council and replaced former Federal Councilor Samuel Schmid (CDP) as defense minister. Following the retirement of Federal Councilors Hans-Rudolf Merz and Moritz Leuenberger, a mid-term election in September 2010 resulted in two new Federal Councilors (Johann Schneider-Amman and Simonetta Sommaruga) and a reshuffling of the Federal Council.




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