Centre-right goes on the offensive

Hands up who wants to stay in cabinet. Deiss (left) and Metzler Keystone Archive

After their poor showing in this month’s parliamentary elections, the centre-right Christian Democrats are fighting to hold on to their two cabinet posts.

This content was published on October 30, 2003 minutes

They want the Swiss People’s Party to be given the seat made vacant by the resignation of the Radical Party’s Kaspar Villiger.

As is customary after every parliamentary election, each member of the seven-strong cabinet has to seek a renewed mandate to serve in office for another four years.

The procedure is normally a formality, but this year there has been mounting pressure on the embattled Christian Democrats to hand over one of their cabinet posts to the rightwing People’s Party – the big winners in the elections.

But the Christian Democrats are adamant that they should hold on to both their seats in government.

“We think we are the only party that represents the political centre here in Switzerland,” party spokeswoman Béatrice Wertli told swissinfo.

“Our former partners in the Centre – the Radicals – have moved to the Right, and for us to give up one of our seats would actually show we want a weaker Centre – and we don’t.”


Under a 1959 power-sharing arrangement, the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Radicals all hold two cabinet seats, with just one for the People’s Party.

But at this year’s parliamentary elections the People’s Party secured the largest share of the vote nationwide and became the biggest party in the House of Representatives.

Their success fuelled calls for a second seat and they have already nominated hardliner Christoph Blocher as their candidate.

The big losers were the Christian Democrats.

Risky strategy

Political analyst Georg Lutz says the strategy adopted by the Christian Democrats is a risky one, as it places the final decision as to who stays or who goes in the hands of the other parties in government.

The government is elected by a joint session of both chambers - the House of Representatives and the Senate - and Lutz says the vote could be a close one.

“The People’s Party and the Radicals don’t have enough seats to decide who is going to be in the government, so they need at least one other [major] party to support them,” he told swissinfo.

“If the other parties manage to coordinate with one another, then they could effectively decide between them which of the two Christian Democrats ministers is deselected.”

Under threat

The two Christian Democrat ministers under threat are the justice minister, Ruth Metzler, and the economics minister, Joseph Deiss.

Before the elections there had been rumours that one of them would be prepared to step down in favour of a candidate from the People’s Party, once they had served as Switzerland’s president.

Metzler is due to take over the rotating presidency in 2004, followed by Deiss in 2005.

But Lutz says that once elected, there is no official mechanism for removing one of the ministers from office.

“There is probably little reason for either the Radicals or the People’s Party to agree to such a compromise made on a vague kind of promise,” he said.

“We have already seen that neither minister wants to resign, and the Christian Democrats themselves can’t force them – at least publicly – to go,” he added

Cabinet election

Both were elected to government in March 1999 and are the third and fourth longest-serving cabinet members.

As seniority determines the order of re-election, Lutz believes there is still a lot of room for behind-the-scenes negotiations in the run-up to the vote.

“December 10 is a still a long way off,” he said.

“A lot of things can still happen and so much depends on further talks and coordination among the four main parties.”

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton


Cabinet ministers have to renew their mandate to hold office every four years – just after the parliamentary elections.

The cabinet vote will take place at a joint session of parliament on December 10.

Six ministers are seeking re-election, the seventh – Radical Party member Kaspar Villiger – is due to step down at the end of the year.

After their success in the parliamentary elections, the People’s Party are calling for a second cabinet seat.

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