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Blocher sets sights on joining Schmid in cabinet

Billionaire Blocher may cause trouble if he's not elected Keystone

The Swiss People’s Party’s two candidates in the cabinet elections represent very different sections of the rightwing party.

This content was published on December 3, 2003 - 16:13

The controversial populist, Christoph Blocher, is aiming to join the much more conciliatory Samuel Schmid in the seven-strong government.

Blocher, who is the People’s Party’s driving force, has threatened to take it out of government unless he is elected.

But Schmid, currently the party’s sole representative in government, has said he will decide for himself whether to stand down if the party fails in its bid for a second seat.

The difference in approach illustrates not only the style, but also the political background of the two men, according to political analyst Hans Hirter.

“Schmid is really part of the traditional wing of the People’s Party, prepared to work together with other parties, and he could almost be called a Radical,” he told swissinfo.

“Blocher is much more strong-willed, and has always opposed government policy if it didn’t meet his beliefs,” he added.

Populist

It is the readiness of Blocher, the billionaire president of the party’s Zurich wing, to speak out against government policy that has many parliamentarians convinced he would be unwilling to share responsibility for cabinet decisions if elected.

Members of the government thrash out policy among themselves behind closed doors and are expected to present a united front in public.

Blocher, who holds hardline positions on a number of issues, including asylum, citizenship rights and taxation, has stressed that as a cabinet minister he would stick to the rules of consensus politics.

But Hirter says it would be hard for the 63-year-old to keep his promise all the time.

“As long as policy issues go the way he wants, then of course he will be able to work together with the other ministers,” he said.

“But if a decision is reached on something he doesn’t agree with, he might not play along.

“He’s not very concerned about being unpopular with other politicians – what he likes is to be popular with the people.”

Old school

There is no doubting Blocher’s wealth of political experience – he has been a member of the House of Representatives for almost 25 years.

Schmid too is a seasoned politician. He held elected office at local, cantonal and national levels (in both the House of Representatives and the Senate) before entering the cabinet at the beginning of 2001.

He was not the party’s choice as a replacement for his predecessor, Adolf Ogi.

Parliamentarians rejected the two official candidates – both of whom were backed by Blocher’s wing of the party – in favour of Schmid, who is part of the more moderate Bern wing of the party.

“It is proof that Schmid knows how to get along with politicians from all parties,” said Hirter.

“He’s part of the old school of the party. He’s not a populist and he doesn’t look for votes by taking a hardline stand against foreigners or asylum seekers.”

Walk out

Publicly at least Schmid is not worried by Blocher’s threat to lead the party into opposition unless he is elected.

Backed by his Bern powerbase, he has repeatedly said he will not be forced into making a decision about his future in the government based on the outcome of Blocher’s bid for office.

Political analysts say the threat of a walk out could backfire on Blocher and highlight divisions within the party.

“It’s not certain that the whole party would support a move into opposition, especially if Schmid refuses to stand down,” political analyst Jeremias Blaser told swissinfo.

“That’s proof that the party is not a homogenous bloc and that might also temper a bit their strength as an opposition force.”

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton

Key facts

Every four years, shortly after the parliamentary elections, cabinet ministers have their mandates renewed by parliament.
After its gains in October’s parliamentary elections, the People’s Party has renewed its calls for a second seat in government – at the expense of the Christian Democrats.
Blocher has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1979.
Schmid entered government as defence minister on January 1, 2001.

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