Parliament has re-elected all the members of the multi-party Swiss government for the next four years, rejecting a bid by the Green Party to win a seat in the seven-strong executive branch.
Defence Minister Viola Amherd, Interior Minister Alain Berset and Finance Minister Ueli Maurer won the most votes – 218, 214 and 213 respectively from the 244 parliamentarians present – in a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate on Wednesday.
As widely expected, the candidate from the Green Party, Regula Rytz, failed to win enough support to unseat the embattled foreign minister, Ignazio Cassis. a member of the centre-right Radical Liberal Party.
The Green Party challenger received 82 votes, most likely from left-wing parliamentarians, in the secret ballot that produced 145 votes for Cassis.
Political experts say the overall election results reflect the will of right-wing and centrist parties to retain a stable political system in Switzerland.
However, left-wing parties argue large parts of the Swiss electorate are not represented in the government if the Green Party is denied a seat in the cabinet.
Under an informal power-sharing agreement between the main political parties, the Swiss government has been made up of two members each of the Swiss People’s Party, the Social Democrats and the Radicals and one Christian Democrat.
Not all lost for Greens
Claude Longchamp, a senior political analyst, says the result of the Greens was disappointing.
“The challenge has failed and the moment has not quite come for the Greens,” he told the Blick newspaper. But he says the environmentalist party is in a comfortable position for the next few years. “As an opposition party they can blame the established parties for denying them a legitimate cabinet seat.”
If they play their cards right and with public pressure from young voters they can launch a new attack, possibly even threatening the position of the left-wing Social Democrats.
Analysing the limited support for Cassis among parliamentarians in Wednesday’s election, Longchamp is pessimistic.
“It does not bode well: neither for the foreign minister, the government, nor the country when the minister in charge of negotiating future relations with the European Union scores the worst result of the seven incumbents,” Longchamp explained.
Change in the air
Parliament also elected Simonetta Sommaruga as Swiss president for 2020.
For the second time in her political career, the minister in charge of transport, environment, energy and communication issues will hold the largely ceremonial post.
In a short speech in parliament, Sommaruga said change was in the air despite the winter season. “There have never been more as many mothers, women and young parliamentarians than now. This will have an impact on politics and on the lives of people,” she said.
She called for joint efforts to tackle climate change and to break a deadlock in discussions about Switzerland’s position in Europe.
“Citizens expect politicians to find solutions. Direct democracy is a demanding system both for the government and parliament. And this is a good thing,” she said.
The cabinet elections, the highlight of the current winter session of parliament, come nearly eight weeks after parliamentary elections which saw Green parties make spectacular gains at the expense of right-wing and left-wing parties.