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Four candidates officially declared in Ogi succession race

Christoph Blocher congratulates Rita Fuhrer on her nomination

(Keystone)

Four candidates have now officially entered the race to succeed the Swiss president and defence minister, Adolf Ogi, as the Swiss People's Party member of cabinet.

Ogi's announcement last month that he planned to leave politics at the end of the year started the process of nominating a successor. Speculation has been fierce over the party's choice.

The People's Party has been riven by splits between supporters of the moderate Ogi and those of the right-wing member of the Zurich section, Christoph Blocher.

On Saturday the party's canton Zurich section nominated Rita Fuhrer as their candidate. Fuhrer, seen as close to Blocher, has been a member of the cantonal government since 1995, in charge of social affairs and security.

Meanwhile, the more moderate canton Graubünden section picked Christoffel Brändli, a member of the federal parliament with an agricultural background. Brändli spent 12 years in Graubünden's cantonal government, in charge of the agricultural department.

The party's moderate section in canton Bern has already nominated parliamentarian Samuel Schmid, who is being tipped as a favourite; canton Thurgau has chosen Roland Eberle, seen as the outsider.

On November 28 the People's Party parliamentary group will pick a single candidate, ahead of December 6, when both houses of parliament will meet to elect Ogi's successor.

But the field is not entirely free for a smooth People's Party succession. The party is under fire from those who want to see it out of government, bringing an end to the Swiss "Magic Formula", which established a cross-party administration in 1959.

The party's critics, including several prominent members of its fellow governing parties, say that it has failed to support government policy too often, and should be ejected from its cabinet seat as a result.

On Saturday the Greens, who are not in government, said they would be nominating their own candidate for the December 6 election. They accuse the People's Party of being a xenophobic and isolationist organisation, with no place in ruling Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Franco Cavalli, parliamentary group leader of the governing Social Democrats, said that his party was working hard to form an anti-People's Party coalition, with the Radicals and Christian Democrats. He said that he was optimistic that talks would be successful.

But Adalbert Durrer, the president of the Christian Democrats, said that it would be premature to evict the People's Party from government. Interviewed in the press he said that, given the party's current electoral strength, no decisions on a new governing formula should be made before the 2003 federal elections.

swissinfo with agencies

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