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Cabinet election tops parliamentary agenda

Parliament will choose a new successor to Adolf Ogi during the winter session


One of the highlights of this year's winter session of the Swiss parliament is the election of a new cabinet member following the resignation of the defence minister, Adolf Ogi.

The three-week winter session kicks off on Monday, but most of the attention will be focused on December 6, when both houses of parliament are holding a joint session to elect a successor to Ogi, who steps down at the end of the year.

Under an informal agreement, the right-wing Swiss People's Party is entitled to one seat in the seven-member cabinet. The party's parliamentary group is to decide on its candidate on Tuesday.

Both houses of parliament are also due to elect the transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, to the rotating post of Swiss president in 2001. The finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, is likely to be named vice-president.

Among the most controversial issues on the agenda of the three-week session is a debate on changing the way the price of rents is determined. Currently rents are tied to mortgage rates.

However, the Tenants Association says the system is often unfair. About 70 per cent of the Swiss population live in rented accommodation.

The House of Representatives has also tabled discussions on two people's initiatives aimed bringing down the cost of health insurance and medicines.

In other business, parliament is resuming its debate on formally legalising abortion, as well as opening up the electricity market.

As is customary during the winter session, parliament is due to consider next year's federal budget, which foresees a small deficit of about SFr60 million ($32 million), and it will hear the government outlining its policy aims for 2001.

A lively debate is expected over additional funds for this year's budget. The government has asked for an extra SFr920,000 to fund the expenses of the Swiss prosecutor of the International War Crimes Tribunal, Carla Del Ponte.

A special occasion is a planned speech in parliament by the last leader of the former Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, during the third week of the session in the capital, Bern.

In his capacity as president of the international environmental organisation, Green Cross, Gorbachev is due to launch an international appeal for the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction.

by Urs Geiser

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