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Blocher sets out cabinet credentials

Blocher insists his party is not nationalist Keystone

Christoph Blocher, the controversial driving force behind the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, insisted on Monday that he was ready for government.

This content was published on November 3, 2003 - 20:11

Blocher said he was prepared to share responsibility for cabinet decisions, if elected to the seven-member government in next month’s parliamentary vote.

The 63-year-old politician stressed once again, however, that he would lead the party into opposition if parliament fails to back his candidature.

Having emerged as the country’s largest political party in last month’s general election, with 26.6 per cent of the popular vote, the People’s Party is campaigning for a second seat in the government.

The party believes it should be awarded one of the two seats currently occupied by the Christian Democrats, who saw their share of the vote tumble to 14.4 per cent.

Blocher was quick to dismiss suggestions that the People’s Party might instead take up the seat vacated by retiring Radical Party minister Kaspar Villiger, insisting that any future cabinet configurations should closely reflect the will of the people.

“We are fighting for a mathematically proportional cabinet mirroring the national vote,” Blocher said.

“We have nothing against the Christian Democrats themselves, or at least no more than against the other parties, but they are the smallest party so why should we target the Radicals?”

Conciliatory image

Monday’s press conference took place in Zurich, but Blocher's words seemed to be aimed at a much wider audience, with several foreign journalists among the 50 or so reporters in attendance.

Speaking in a plush theatre hall, with a large vase of orange lilies at his side, Blocher appeared keen to present a more conciliatory image to his international audience, following several scathing articles about perceived extremism within the People’s Party rank and file.

“We are not a nationalistic party - nationalists are generally people who believe that their country is in some way superior to others,” argued Blocher.

“We do believe that Switzerland is a special country with its own special needs, but the same can rightly be said of England, France or any other nation."

Blocher also rejected recent press reports comparing him to French extremist, Jean-Marie Le Pen, or Austrian rightwinger, Jörg Haider.

“Some sections of the media have looked to exploit any similarities they can spot, pointing out that Le Pen and Haider are also opposed to EU expansion, but the Swiss People’s Party is a long way from both of them on other issues,” said Blocher.

“It’s true that Haider did manage to break up a fossilized and sleaze-ridden coalition government in Austria, but having done that it seems he was unable to offer a positive contribution of his own.”

Reluctance

That won’t be the case with his own government candidature, Blocher suggested, saying that he was ready to accept the Swiss cabinet’s collegiate principle, albeit with some reluctance.

“The wording on government decisions is always that ‘the cabinet has decided to support this bill or oppose that bill’ so if I’m opposed to a majority decision in the cabinet I won’t actually have to say that I have changed my personal opinion on a particular subject,” he said.

“This collegiate responsibility idea is currently part of the Swiss system. I’d be quite willing to have a system where the individual votes of the cabinet members are made public, because I believe in greater political transparency. But as long as we have these rules, then I will be able to stick to them.”

As if in a hurry to run through all his personal beliefs before the possible call to government, Blocher added that he would continue to fight within the cabinet for lower taxes and restrained government spending, and that he would continue to oppose compulsory paid maternity leave and freer movement of people from new EU countries.

Asked what he thought his chances were of making it into the government, Blocher repeated his election night estimate of “fifty-fifty”.

The final say will go to the parliamentarians on December 10. But Monday’s press conference, with its almost presidential trappings, will leave few in any doubt as to the seriousness of Blocher’s bid.

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich

In brief

Blocher is the billionaire president of the Swiss People’s Party’s Zurich wing.

After winning more than a quarter of the popular vote in last month’s election, the party is campaigning for a second seat in government.

If successful, Blocher’s bid would mark the first major change to the make-up of Switzerland’s cabinet in more than 40 years.

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