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Expatriates fail in bid for parliament seats

Young Swiss Abroad were invited home to follow the elections

(Keystone)

None of the 44 candidates from the Swiss abroad community has succeeded in winning a seat in Sunday's parliamentary elections.

The only candidate for the Green Party, who lives in Belgium, scored the best result but under the current electoral system he stood no chance of making it to the House of Representatives.

Raphaël Thiémard won 2,251 votes in his Fribourg constituency – more than any other Swiss expatriate.

"I'm pleased and a bit surprised. The Greens always have to fight hard to achieve a decent result in Fribourg," he said.

He had been expecting other candidates, notably those who benefited from separate electoral lists for the Swiss Abroad in Zurich and Geneva, to do better.

Nevertheless, the top three expat candidates all came from French-speaking constituencies. They certainly did better than over 30 candidates fielded by the rightwing Swiss People's Party, which confirmed its position as the country's leading political force in the 2007 elections.

"We knew it would be extremely difficult. We hoped to increase their chances by setting up special lists for the expatriate candidates. Unfortunately it did not work out," said People's Party president Ueli Maurer.

In terms of voting trends among the Swiss Abroad, the People's Party progressed but was less dominant than within the country.

However the votes of the Swiss Abroad are only registered in four cantons – Appenzell Inner Rhodes, Geneva, Lucerne and Vaud – so they are not representative, the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) explained.

In the four cantons in question, the People's Party obtained 15-19 per cent compared with 10-14 per cent in 2003. In Geneva and Vaud, the Social Democrats came out on top.

Lobbying

The OSA says expatriates stand virtually no chance of success under the current system.

"It is very tough to run an election campaign in Switzerland if you live abroad and if you don't have a lobby group," admitted OSA spokeswoman Gabrielle Keller.

But she didn't rule out that an expatriate could win a seat in parliament, provided the necessary financial means are at hand to get a campaign rolling both at home and abroad.

Others have pointed out that someone as well known as the former Green parliamentarian, Ruedi Baumann, might have been elected if he had decided to stand in the 2007 elections.

Baumann and his wife Stefanie, who live in France, were the first Swiss expatriates to sit in the federal parliament between 2001 and 2003. But at the time of their election in 1999 they were still Swiss residents.

Reform

The centre-left Social Democratic Party has been pushing for a reform of the electoral system to increase the chances of the Swiss expatriates via a separate constituency.

There is no other way than to guarantee seats for the Swiss Abroad in parliament, according to the party.

For his part, Green Party candidate Thiémard says he likes the idea, which has been put into practice in other countries.

"The current system seems a bit dishonest. Swiss expatriates are encouraged to be candidates but they don't stand a chance."

The proposal by the Social Democrats gets less favourable marks from the Council of the Swiss Abroad, an assembly of Swiss expatriates.

"The creation of a virtual 27th constituency would make the Swiss Abroad a separate group instead of putting them on an equal footing with the citizens in Switzerland," Keller told swissinfo.

She added that electronic voting might be the answer to some of the difficulties the expatriates face when taking part in ballots, notably when the necessary documents arrive too late at their destination.

swissinfo, based on an article in German by Christian Raaflaub and Gaby Ochsenbein

ELECTIONS 2007

House of Representatives

People's Party: 62 seats (+7, compared with 2003)
Social Democratic Party: 43 seats (-9)
Radical Party: 31 seats (-5)
Christian Democrats: 31 seats (+3)
Greens: 20 seats (+6)
Others: 13 seats (-2)

Total: 200 seats

Results from the elections to the Senate are incomplete.
The Green Party won its first seat in the 46-member chamber.
Run-off elections are needed in eight of the country's 26 cantons.

end of infobox

Expat voting

Around 111,000 Swiss expatriates are registered to vote.

There are only three cantons, out of 26, where the votes of the Swiss abroad are counted separately. A fourth canton registers the turnout among Swiss expatriates.

In most cantons the expatriate ballot sheets are added to the domestic votes.

44 Swiss expatriates – 37 men and 7 women – vied for seats in the House of Representatives, up from 15 in 2003.

The bulk – 33 - were on lists of the rightwing Swiss People's Party, six for the centre-right Radicals, three for the centre-right Christian Democrats, one each for the Greens and the far-right Federal Democratic Union.

Expatriates were on party lists in seven cantons, although the majority were registered in Zurich.

end of infobox

Foreigners' virtual vote

On Sunday, foreign residents were able to take part in a virtual vote organised by the www.auslaenderstimmrecht.ch team.

Around 7,000 registered at the online polling station.

Result:

Social Democrats: 32,3%
Greens: 28,3%
Radicals: 15,1%
Christian Democrats: 9,8%
Others: 7,5%
People's Party: 7%

end of infobox


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