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Foreign media assess Blocher's tightening grip

(swissinfo.ch)

International coverage of the Swiss elections has focused on the victory of the rightwing Swiss People's Party and the role of its leading light, Christoph Blocher.

The images of riots in Bern and the party's controversial "black sheep" poster campaign ensured that this year's parliamentary elections generated unprecedented media attention across the world.

Party posters featuring white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag sparked outrage that was blamed in part for a riot two weeks before the election.

"For one of the oldest and most stable democracies in the world, the election campaign was unusually divisive because of Mr Blocher's contempt for traditional Swiss consensus and his breaking of taboos," said British newspaper The Guardian.

Britain's The Independent, which before the election had suggested Switzerland was Europe's "heart of darkness", led with the headline "'Racist' campaign pays off in Swiss poll".

The BBC felt the party's campaign had caused "deep unease among the large immigrant community" but had also "struck a chord with voters".

The German magazine Spiegel Online said the defeated parties had lost deservedly, "paying the price for a miserable campaign".

Dominant figure

"Blocher and his party are so successful because they set the agenda and because their opponents had nothing to oppose them with," wrote Spiegel Online. "No Swiss politician can compete with Christoph Blocher in terms of impact and charisma."

For France's La Libération, Blocher is "populist and xenophobic". It added that the billionaire businessman had even pulled off the unthinkable: "he has managed to make his nervous electorate forget that his evangelising was pretty much xenophobic and that he is first and foremost an ultra-liberal".

But The Guardian and Spiegel Online felt that support for the People's Party had probably peaked.

"The party has to consider how it will deal with a future which will one day be without Blocher," said Spiegel Online.

Consensus politics and power-sharing

The term "consensus politics" describes the ongoing effort to achieve a balanced compromise among political parties and among the different ...

Possible consequences

Several media took stabs at what the swing to the right would mean for the Swiss political landscape.

"The end of cuddling up," is how the German Süddeutsche Zeitung saw events. Consensus politics has made Switzerland stable, "in the long-term, however, consensus is looking shaky".

A sizeable proportion of Swiss voters "would obviously prefer a government of political factions to a super coalition", it wrote.

Spiegel Online downplayed the size of the political earthquake.

"When the presidents of the four ruling parties gathered on Sunday evening on Swiss television's election special to analyse the results, it was as if they had forgotten that in the past few weeks something like a state of emergency had existed in Switzerland," it wrote.

"Ueli Maurer, the shirt-sleeved president of the People's Party, never acted like an election winner, instead he spoke quietly of the way that it was only possible to govern Switzerland in the proven form: all together."

Warnings

Some foreign commentators, however, see warnings in the Swiss elections.

The BBC's Swiss correspondent felt the swing to the right now gave the People's Party "a mandate to push forward policies like the deportation of foreign criminals and a ban on building minarets".

For Belgium's "Le Soir", Switzerland has become a "laboratory for populists", who blame foreigners for the country's problems.

The Stuttgarter Zeitung went further commenting that the fact that the strongest party in the elections has an anti-Islamic stance means that "the election result has to function as a warning for [the rest of] Europe".

But Le Figaro noted that many Swiss people did not vote for the People's Party. "Most [Swiss] do not recognise themselves in this projected image of a country turned in on itself, hostile to Europe and the developing world," it writes.

The newspaper said the Swiss economy has always benefited from immigration and would not survive being isolated.

swissinfo

In brief

Voters chose the 200 members of the House of Representatives and most members of the Senate for the next four-year term.

The four main parties – People's Party, Social Democrats, Radicals and Christian Democrats – control more than 75% of the seats in parliament and share the seven cabinet posts.

An alliance of Greens and other leftwing parties is the biggest opposition grouping.

Both houses of parliament will meet on December 12 to elect the new cabinet.

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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

Foreign correspondents

There are about 300 foreign correspondents in Switzerland. Many are freelance journalists or people who work part time, according to the Swiss foreign ministry.

Most correspondents are based in Geneva, the seat of numerous international organisations.

Others report from Zurich, the commercial hub of Switzerland. Only a handful work from other cities.

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