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Fear factor key to Rightwing success

The election poster campaign played on voters' fears Keystone Archive

By tapping into voters' fears about tax, pensions and asylum, the rightwing Swiss People’s Party has become the largest party in Switzerland.

This content was published on October 22, 2003 - 18:58

swissinfo spoke to Oscar Mazzoleni, author of a recent study on the People’s Party, about the reasons for its success.

Mazzoleni says that the People's Party is unique in Europe for having become more radical while also being a party in government.

On Sunday, it polled nearly 27 per cent of the popular vote, winning 55 seats in the House of Representatives.

Its nearest rival was the centre-left Social Democratic Party, which won just over 23 per cent.

Off the back of its election success, the People’s Party is now demanding a second seat in the seven-member cabinet at the expense of one of the other three parties in government.

swissinfo: The leader of France's National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has congratulated Christoph Blocher on his victory. Can the People’s Party success be compared with the rise of the extreme Right in Europe?

Oscar Mazzoleni: There is some common ground between some other European parties and the People’s Party, such as the fight to defend the integrity of the nation and systematic attacks on the ruling class, which is seen as being incapable of responding to the interests of the people.

But unlike its European cousins, Blocher’s party has been a force in government for decades. Its recent radicalisation has occurred even though it holds a post at the heart of the power-sharing government. From this point of view, it’s unique in Europe.

swissinfo: Support for the People’s Party increased by 4.6 per cent on Sunday – it even won seats in cantons where it did not traditionally have a presence, such as Neuchâtel. Could this success have been predicted?

O.M.: Two weeks before the elections, the survey predicted that the People’s Party would gain 25 per cent of the vote. In reality, it won 27 per cent, which was a shock to everyone.

Perhaps some of the new voters won over by the People’s Party did not dare to be open about their choice during the surveys.

swissinfo: The People’s Party recently put Blocher forward as a candidate for a cabinet seat, threatening to quit the government if its demands were not met. Is it a feasible option for them to become a party of opposition?

O.M.: I think that announcing Blocher’s candidature was part of a strategy to put pressure on the Centre parties.

If the People’s Party wants to take advantage of its election gains, it is in its interests to keep Blocher – its charismatic figurehead - out of the federal government. Being part of the cabinet would deal a blow to his image as an outsider.

swissinfo: What do you think is likely to happen on December 10 when parliament is due to elect the cabinet?

O.M.: If the People’s Party gets a second seat, I would imagine that parliament would not choose the party’s official candidate, especially given the decisive role of the Radicals and the Christian Democrats in the Senate.

swissinfo: With 27 per cent of Swiss supporting a party that uses some radical vocabulary, does this suggest that middle-income voters are becoming more radical?

O.M.: Voters for the People’s Party are becoming more heterogeneous. Lower and middle-income classes in urban areas have joined farmers and craftsmen from the rural regions.

The message of the People’s Party reflects this heterogeneity – on the one hand, it is present during farmers’ demonstrations and on the other it denounces the state’s handouts.

As a charismatic leader, Blocher embodies these different signals and presents a coherent image.

swissinfo-interview: Andrea Tognina (translation: Faryal Mirza)

Key facts

Switzerland’s "Magic Formula" is the system of dividing the seven cabinet seats among the four main parties.
The four main parties are the Social Democrats, the Radicals, the Christian Democrats and the People's Party.
All the parties - bar the People's Party - are allocated two seats each.

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In brief

The Swiss People's Party won 26.6% of the popular vote, and now has 55 seats in the House of Representatives.

Social Democrats: 23.3% with 52 seats.

Radicals: 17.3% with 36 seats.

Christian Democrats: 14.4% with 28 seats.

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