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Switzerland - 2011 Election

Switzerland’s elections to the Federal Assembly on 23 October 2011 demonstrated that Swiss democracy is deep-rooted and pluralistic but the decentralized system of government leads to some regional variations in electoral practice. Candidates and parties campaigned freely and actively, with their political rights fully respected, while the system of voter registration, based on population registers, appeared to be highly effective, accurate, and inclusive.

There is a very high level of public trust in the election administration. Although election administration bodies are structured in very different ways across the cantons, they have developed a wide range of good electoral practices. However, these have not been harmonized across the country, leaving each cantonal system with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Federal election legislation provides a general framework for elections in line with OSCE commitments and other international standards, but it does not touch on key aspects, such as the election administration, the election campaign, the role of the media, or election observers. Some of these issues are regulated by the cantons, reinforcing cantonal variations.

There are no federal regulations governing campaign financing. In order to increase transparency and better inform voters, the report recommends the authorities consider introducing an obligation for public disclosure of candidate and party campaign receipts, sources, and expenditures.

Switzerland has a lively multiparty system with 12 parties represented in the Federal Assembly at the time of the election. Parties having members in the Federal Council included the Conservative Democratic Party (BDP), the Christian Democratic People’s Party (CVP), the Radical Free Democratic Party (FDP), the Social Democratic Party (SP) and the Swiss People’s Party (SVP). The SVP has been under-represented on the Federal Council since its gains in the 2007 elections due to reluctance by other parties to elect its candidates to the Council.

Over the past several years, the Swiss party system had undergone significant changes, with several traditional parties stagnating or declining in cantonal elections, and new parties such as the Swiss Green Party (GPS), BDP, and the Green Liberal Party (GLP) emerging.

Because most Swiss vote by post, the political campaign began early and reached its peak weeks before election day. Overall, the parties organized a modest level of campaign activity. Contestants generally used traditional methods such as posters, billboards, newspaper advertisements, and the distribution of leaflets. Party and candidate billboards were often concentrated at railway, bus, and tram stations. Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were used individually by some, mainly young, candidates, but were not used by parties in an organized manner.

National parties, which have traditionally been decentralized, relied heavily on the work of their cantonal branches and candidates. At the same time, however, parties are increasingly developing national corporate identities and campaigning on a more unified national basis. Candidate personalities remained an important factor in the campaign.

No single issue dominated the campaign. In several instances, events outside of Switzerland spilled over into the domestic campaign. For example, the Fukushima atomic disaster in Japan sparked an internal debate over nuclear energy, while the European financial crisis raised concerns for the domestic economy, employment and relations with the European Union (EU). The SVP campaign focused on issues related to mass immigration and expressed reservations about closer ties with the EU. The SP put social issues and health care at the center of its campaign. The CVP focused on family policy. The FDP campaigned to maintain the successful Swiss economic model and against government bureaucracy.

The SVP/UDC, led by Mr. Toni Brunner since March 2008, pledged to protect the independence of Switzerland by keeping the country out of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It also promised to limit the number of immigrants entering the country and expel foreigners who committed crimes. The party promised to organize a referendum against "mass immigration". Shortly before polling day, the SVP/UDC announced that it had collected the 100,000 signatures required to hold a referendum.

The SP/PS of Christian Levrat used the slogan "For everyone, without privileges". It pledged to increase the ratio of renewable energy to 50 per cent of the energy used in Switzerland by 2030 and to create a public health insurance fund. The FDP/PRD of Fulvio Pelli promised to support small and medium-sized enterprises in a bid to create more jobs. It pledged to reform the social insurance system to make it solid in the long term.

The CVP/PDC, led by Christophe Darbellay, promised to foster environment-friendly economic activities. On immigration, it pledged to improve the integration of immigrants in Switzerland and to shorten the procedure for processing asylum requests. It also promised to maintain Switzerland's humanitarian tradition while combating abuses of the asylum system.

Hans Grunder's BDP/PBD pledged to tackle tax fraud and tax evasion and put an end to the indebtedness of the social insurance system. The GPS/PES of Ueli Leuenberger pledged to continue the fight against the construction of new nuclear power plants. Another green party, the Liberal Green Party (GLP/PVL), led by Martin Bäumle, promised to replace the value-added tax by a new tax on non-renewable energy.

Interest groups were active in providing financial support or endorsements to candidates. Business organizations, trade unions, and the Swiss Farmers Association supported specific candidates. Small and medium-sized entrepreneurs within the Swiss Trade and Crafts Association used a “quality seal” to endorse enterprise-friendly candidates and paid for newspaper advertisements on their behalf. Trade unions made modest financial donations to their preferred parties or candidates. Some groups of voters also came together to support specific candidates.

An increased number of voters – ten per cent, according to some OSCE/ODIHR EAM interlocutors – used internet platforms such as “Smart Vote” and “Vimentis” to identify candidates and parties who share their political opinions, based on user responses to a questionnaire. Since the results often suggest that users split their vote among candidates of different parties, larger parties were reserved about the platforms, while smaller parties tended to be more supportive.

On 23 October, 48.5 per cent of 5.1 million registered voters turned out at the polls. The SVP/UDC remained the largest party in the National Council with 54 seats, down from 60. The SP/PS gained an additional six seats to hold a total of 46. The FDP/PRD and the CVP/PDC took 30 and 28 seats respectively. The GPS/PES took 15, losing five, and the GLP/PVL took 12. The BDP/PBD took nine seats, with the remainder going to small parties. In all, 59 women were elected.

Run-off elections for the Council of States were held in 15 cantons between 13 November and 4 December. The CVP/PDC came first with 13 seats, followed by the FDP/PRD and the SP/PS, which took 11 seats respectively. The remainder went to small parties represented in the National Council. In all, nine women were elected.

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