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Media crisis for minister Cabinet member rules out conflict of interest

Defense Minister Guy Parmelin wasn't quite able to convince the media of his position


“Guy Parmelin faces his first media storm” was the title splashed across the front page of the Lausanne-based French-language paper 24 heures on Saturday. The new cabinet member and defence minister came under fire after the tabloid newspaper Blick uncovered a personal conflict of interest linked to tax privileges for farmers.

First reactions to the affair “were not kind to Guy Parmelin”, said 24 heures. After the “universal acclaim” following his election to the cabinet in December 2015, the “state of grace has come to an abrupt end”.

The crisis began after the Blick reported that Parmelin had pleaded in favour of fiscal privileges for farmers selling plots of land although his own family could be a potential financial beneficiary of the legal amendment.

At a press conference in Bern on Friday, Parmelin downplayed the potential benefits to his family, and defended his failure to disqualify himself from cabinet discussions on the proposed bill, which was passed by a parliamentary special session at the end of April.

But Parmelin’s “thorny share in building land”, as it was referred to by the Basler Zeitung, was seen as a conflict of interest by the majority of newspapers commenting on the issue on Saturday.

Although he attempted to defuse the situation and to convince journalists that he hadn’t done anything wrong, this attempt “did not succeed”, said the Basler Zeitung. Parmelin “obviously lacks political sense”.

Meanwhile, “Stained Mr Clean” was the title of the editorial in the Zurich-based Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Parmelin, who was elected to the cabinet in December as the second representative of the conservative right Swiss People’s Party, earned a great deal of applause in his first 100 days, said the paper. His current behaviour, although not scandalous, leaves a “bitter aftertaste”.

And the Tages-Anzeiger concurred that Parmelin “positively surprised both friend and foe” in his first four months in office, “but now there’s a dent in his positive image”. At his press conference on Friday the defence minister had the chance to admit to the media that he had made a mistake. But repeatedly, in answer to questions from journalists, he was unable to recognise that he had a conflict of interest, the paper said.

On Saturday, the headline plastered across the front of the Blick was: “Mr Minister, you haven’t understood anything!” A federal minister has a lot of influence, said the paper, and this influence should be put to use on behalf of the people as a whole, and not in furthering the causes of special interest groups. Parmelin, the paper said, has “failed to understand the significance of his new position of power”.

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