A recent advertisement in two leading Swiss newspapers has caught public attention and caused considerable puzzlement. A political movement is actively looking for candidates ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.
The notices in the prestigious Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) and the Le Temps newspapers were posted by the group Operation Liberoexternal link.
The non-partisan organisation is casting its net to see whether it can find potential candidates willing to promote and defend the values of political openness and liberalism. It is also calling for people who like to engage in debates about political and social reforms across party lines.
Operation Libero is pleased with the response to the ad which was published on October 19, according to spokesman Silvan Gisler.
“We have had quite a few reactions from people who showed an interest,” Gisler says.
No political party
He confirms that Operation Libero has no plans of becoming a political party. “We don’t want to cannibalise existing parties,” he explains.
Instead, the group is seeking allies to take its ideas to the parliamentary stage and feed them directly into the political process at a national level, hoping to break a perceived deadlock.
“Parliament has not been able to push ahead with badly needed reforms during the first three years of the current term,” Gisler says, indirectly referring to failed attempts to find a compromise in a long-running controversy about future relations with the European Union or the reform of the old-age pension scheme and the corporate tax system.
Gisler says Operaton Libero will take stock before the end of the year and decide on the next steps.
“We can’t say much more at this stage. But our approach has been and will remain issue-driven and not along party political lines,” says Gisler.
The newspaper ad has bewildered political observers and analysts alike.
“People seem to be unsure about our approach outside a party structure,” says Gisler.
Political scientist Mark Balsiger suspects that Operation Libero is strategising ahead of the 2019 parliamentary elections.
“They may be testing the water with the ad to make a point at an early stage about the perceived failure of the official policy line towards the EU,” he says.
Questions remain for Balsiger whether the course of action taken by Operation Libero is a shift from their typical political approach.
“It is not clear what the consequences would be, if they gave up their non-partisan stance,” he says. “Over the past four years, Operation Libero has won a reputation as a strong independent player and smart campaigner. It made them attractive for potential new members and donors.”
Other experts suspect initial plans by the group to field its own candidates might have caused alarm among some political parties, notably the centrist Liberal Greens, as seats in urban constituencies could easily be lost to Operation Libero candidates.
Seen in this light, searching for candidates outside the traditional party spectrum might be an alternative.
“It would no doubt be an asset to be able to promote individual candidates, but at what price?” wonders Balsiger.
Senior political analyst Claude Longchamp sees the ad as, in part, a clever PR stunt for Operation Libero. It allows the group to put a clearly visible message before the public.
He agrees there is a certain irony in the fact that that a movement that was among the first to use social media for campaigning has resorted to print advertisements.
Operation Libero was established in 2014, following Swiss voters’ approval of a controversial rightwing initiative re-introducing immigration quotas for EU citizens.
One of Operation Libero’s leading members, Flavia Kleiner, won prominence in the political fight against another hardline proposal by the Swiss People’s Party to expel convicted foreign criminals two years ago.
The group campaigned in favour of gay marriage and successfully helped reject rightwing attacks against the government and parliament’s asylum policy. It also fought against attempts to de-fund the public service Swiss Broadcasting Corporation.