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Cabinet election signals change is in the air

Wednesday‘s vote for a new Swiss government brought no real surprises: All seven members of the government were re-elected. But although Switzerland's traditional government by consensus has been confirmed for the time being, change is in the air.

This content was published on December 15, 1999 - 17:00

Wednesday‘s vote for a new Swiss government brought no real surprises: Despite the challenge from Swiss People's Party figurehead Christoph Blocher (picture), all seven members of the government were re-elected. But although Switzerland's traditional government by consensus has been confirmed for the time being, change is in the air.

On the surface, nothing has changed as Switzerland's “magic formula“ stays just as it has for the last 40 years: Two members from the Social Democrats, two from the Radicals, two from the Christian Democrats, and one from the Swiss People's Party.

But beneath the surface, things look rather different. Among the politicians crowding the Swiss parliament as the election results were announced, none expressed relief that the "magic formula" – the unwritten decades-old power sharing agreement -- had been upheld.

Instead, many warned the People's Party that it must now cooperate -- or leave the government.

"We need a government with greater leadership," said Radical Party deputy Marc Suter.

"We need jobs, more businesses, and we need to join the European Union. If the People's Party stays in opposition, we'll have to try to form a government without them," he said.

Suter's remarks were echoed in statements made by other politicians, including Adalbert Durrer, the president of the Christian Democrats. Of the four government parties, the Christian Democrats got the least support from voters in October's parliamentary elections. But Durrer said the issues facing Switzerland need a consensus government, and he had doubts that would be possible with the People's Party.

"We can't have consensus with hardline policies, we can only do it with people in the government who are prepared to sit together and listen to one another. I think, if you listen to what Mr. Blocher had to say, you will see he would not have made that very easy," Durrer said.

The People's Party believes that the gains it made in the October elections give it a mandate to pursue policies aimed at curbing social spending and being tougher on immigration.

Many party members suggested that the next step would be to go back to the people, perhaps using Switzerland's direct democracy system to force a nationwide vote on some of the issues.

If that were to happen, the party would be a step closer to leaving government and becoming Switzerland's official party of opposition. Many suspect that this is exactly what Blocher, known for his confrontational style of politics, may have been hoping for all along.

From staff member Imogen Foulkes.

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