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Blocher win threatens to split the government

Swiss politics is undergoing a makeover Keystone

With the election of Christoph Blocher, the rightwing Swiss People’s Party now holds a second seat in government.

This content was published on December 11, 2003 - 18:21

swissinfo asked political analyst Oscar Mazzoleni what effect the hardliner’s presence would have on an already divided cabinet.

Blocher unseated the Christian Democrat, Ruth Metzler, in Wednesday's cabinet election, altering the balance of power among the four main political parties for the first time in more than 40 years.

The People's Party had demanded a second seat in the seven-strong cabinet after it emerged as the biggest party in October's parliamentary elections.

Oscar Mazzoleni has written a book on the party and works for the cantonal statistics office in Ticino.

swissinfo: What effect will this election have on Blocher’s image? Will he still be able to present himself as a “different” politician?

Oscar Mazzoleni: His image, built up over the years, as a politician who is a square peg in a round hole is likely to be called into question in the medium term.

If he accepts the rules of collegiality and has to defend political proposals that go against everything he has upheld until now, he will only come to resemble those politicians he has previously criticised from the outside.

swissinfo: What options does Blocher have for translating his ideas into specific political projects in a consensus system of government like the Swiss one?

O.M.: It's hard to say at the moment. Much will depend on the alliances he can forge within the government, in parliament and in the country in general. However, one should not underestimate the ponderousness and inertia of the institutions and their way of functioning. The scope for a single person to impose his ideas within the current system of government is quite limited.

swissinfo: In your book on the People's Party, you underline the fact that – unlike any other party in Europe – it has become much more radical in both its substance and its style. Will this process continue now the party has two cabinet seats?

O.M.: The anti-establishment style will probably become less strident, but we should not forget the conduct of those in the People’s Party who, along with Blocher, contributed to the party becoming more radical.

Will they cast off the vestments of opposition, will they cease to launch initiatives and referendums against the government? I would rule out the emergence of genuine opposition for the time being; however, in the medium term it is conceivable that, given the experience of compromise and the responsibility of government, and perhaps a certain weakening of support, the rebellious style could regain strength, even against Blocher.

swissinfo: The composition of the new government signals a clear shift to the Right. Is it still possible to speak of consensus in these conditions or does the election suggest that the Swiss political system is becoming polarised?

O.M.: The survival of a style characterised by negotiation and compromise within the government will depend on the role that the newly elected members [Blocher and Hans-Rudolf Merz] play, as well as on whether stable majorities can be achieved.

We need to see to what extent the Social Democrats will be isolated and what the role of the Christian Democrats will be. Latent or concealed polarisation cannot be excluded, but is not a foregone conclusion either.

swissinfo: The new government seems to be the result of an agreement between the centre-right Radicals and the People’s Party. Do you think this alliance will last?

Today, perhaps more than ever in past decades, the Radicals and the People’s Party have wanted to demonstrate that they are the real political points of reference in the Swiss business and financial world. However, their close similarity could create serious risks for the weaker partner - the Radicals - and damage the spirit of union that emerged on December 10.

swissinfo: The cabinet election marked a setback for women in politics, with defeats for Ruth Metzler and Christine Beerli. What does this mean for women in Switzerland?

O.M.: This election confirms that when competition in politics is at its most intense, women are the first casualties.

This is not a new situation: parliamentary elections in recent years have demonstrated this. In cantons which have very few seats in the House of Representatives, the proportion of women elected is lower than in cantons that can send more parliamentarians.

Clearly the symbolic and political outcome of this cabinet election is a lot more significant, but it remains to be seen over the next few months whether the election will prove a major turning point for women in politics.

swissinfo-interview: Andrea Tognina

Blocher

Christoph Blocher unseated the centre-right Christian Democrat, Ruth Metzler, in Wednesday's cabinet election.

Blocher’s success alters an informal power-sharing arrangement among the four main political parties – known as the Magic Formula – which has been in place since 1959.

His election to the seven-strong cabinet marks a clear shift to the right for Switzerland’s consensus government, in which the Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, Radicals and Swiss People’s Party share power.

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