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Cabinet vote challenges status quo

All eyes will be on the ballot box on December 10 Keystone

December’s cabinet elections will determine whether the balance of power in the Swiss government shifts further to the Right.

This content was published on November 21, 2003 - 18:58

Political analyst Hans Hirter told swissinfo he expected some changes but did not think they would necessarily signal the end of consensus politics.

Since October’s parliamentary elections, speculation has been rife about what will happen when parliament chooses the seven-strong cabinet in December.

Attention has focused particularly on the fate of the two centre-right parties that both fared badly in October – the Radicals and the Christian Democrats.

October’s results have also re-opened the debate about the Swiss system of government, according to Hirter.

swissinfo: Can Switzerland’s system of consensus government survive in a country that has become more politically polarised?

Hans Hirter: When everything remains as it is, then yes, as the current composition of the government would not change. But I think the chances of that happening are relatively slight. I expect there will be a change in the political make-up of the government.

swissinfo: Will the Right have a majority in the government?

H.H.: We already have a government with a centre-right/right majority. There are five members of the cabinet that represent parties from that part of the political spectrum, and just two from the Centre-left. I think the government will shift further to the Right, with the People’s Party taking a seat away from the Christian Democrats.

swissinfo: Will Christoph Blocher be elected?

H.H.: I think he probably will be. He might be a controversial figure, but both the centre-right parties would actually rather have Blocher - the driving force behind the People’s Party - in government than somebody else from his party.

If you want to bind the People’s Party to collective government decision-making – or consensus politics – then you have to put a brake on them to stop them making further gains at the next parliamentary elections. That brake can only be put on the party when its leading figure is really bound to the principle of collective government responsibility.

swissinfo: What about the idea of there being a centre-left/centre-right majority in government?

H.H.: I don’t give it much of a chance. Numerically it’s possible – simply from looking at the division of seats in parliament. And parliament elects the cabinet. But politically speaking it would not be a particularly happy marriage between the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Christian Democrats.

Christian Democrat parliamentarians – especially those in the Senate – are closer to the People’s Party than the Social Democrats on many policy issues.

A pact between the three parties could only work with the agreement of the Social Democrats, and the People’s Party has threatened to walk out of government if that happens.

In opposition the People’s Party would denounce both parties [the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats] and be able to profit from situations in which the Christian Democrats would have to follow the lead of the Social Democrats – such as fighting against tax relief for homeowners.

The Christian Democrats would pay a heavy price for such decisions at the next parliamentary elections.

swissinfo: Will the People’s Party really withdraw from government if Blocher isn’t elected?

H.H.: It’s not a very easy situation for the People’s Party. There is the unknown factor of what Samuel Schmid will decide to do. If he were re-elected would he still be a member of the People’s Party?

He could be excluded from the parliamentary faction but not from the party itself.

The People’s Party could still go into opposition and claim it was no longer part of the government, even if Schmid were to remain in office.

I think that the threat has to be taken seriously.

swissinfo: In your opinion what will the composition of government look like after December 10?

H.H.: It will come down to a kind of ‘game of chicken’ between the two Christian Democrat government ministers. In other words the party wants to hold on to both seats for as long as possible.

I think that on the eve of the elections one of them will withdraw their candidacy.

The party could claim this was done for the benefit of the country, the federal system and the party itself.

Blocher would then take the seat of the candidate who had stood down – either Ruth Metzler or Joseph Deiss.

swissinfo-interview: Jean-Michel Berthoud (translation: Jonathan Summerton)

In brief

Political analyst Hans Hirter thinks it is likely the composition of the government will change as a result of the cabinet elections.

He expects one of the Christian Democrat ministers to stand down at the last minute in favour of the People’s Party’s Christoph Blocher.

Hirter rules out a pact involving the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats and the Greens.

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