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Kennedy myth sparks political career of banker

Reuters

His interest in politics dates back to his school days when he read a biography of John F. Kennedy, and it led to his election to parliament six months ago.

This content was published on September 12, 2009 - 18:31

Martin Landolt, a 41-year-old banker who loves hunting and fishing, personifies seemingly irreconcilable opposites. He represents the industrial alpine region of Glarus, but he loves the countryside and promotes renewable energy.

His website betrays a fondness for quotes by politicians, actors and writers.

"I admire the ability to say true and profound things in just a few words," he explains.

Landolt comes across as somewhat shy, but he chooses his words with an ability that leaves little doubt that the man is used to talking in public.

He confirms that he is quite at ease talking in front of people and presenting his point of view.

"It is a very special feeling addressing a crowd of people, for instance at a traditional open-air assembly in Glarus," he says. He vividly remembers standing on the podium and looking out into the assembly and suddenly recognising a single face in the crowd – that of a prominent politician.

Landolt, still a member of his cantonal parliament, has moved up since, and joined the federal parliament earlier this year.

Shock

He says the first day was a bit of a shock for him. "My ears were burning after sitting for hours in all the noise of people talking, walking around, chatting, making telephone calls around me."

It felt like a day at a busy railway station, with nobody listening to the speakers. It is a different world to the canton Glarus parliament.

Landolt says he quickly got used to proceedings in Bern and knows that the real work is done in preparatory committees and party meetings. But still, he wonders what visitors make of such a seemingly irreverent parliament.

On a positive note, Landolt was surprised by the welcoming atmosphere among parliamentarians. "I was expecting aggressive political opponents from the right and the left."

His newly-founded Conservative Democratic Party is the result of a bitter political controversy within the rightwing Swiss People's Party and Landolt assumed he had won no friends by snatching a seat from the Social Democrats.

It was a question of political style that finally made him leave the People's Party and help found the local chapter of the Conservative Democrats. "It is not enough to use strong words, without offering alternative solutions," he says, in a criticism aimed at populist rightwingers.

Renewable energy

He believes in compromise as the way ahead and puts the promotion of renewable energy high on his political agenda. In his view, business should be given incentives to push for a more environmentally-friendly economy.

Landolt does not want Switzerland to seek membership of the European Union as long as bilateral treaties are considered sufficient. But the issue should be reviewed periodically, he believes. "The EU changes and Switzerland changes."

His personal ambitions are modest for the time being. He likes to divide his time between his job as a banker in Zurich, being a politician and a father, and pursuing his hobbies.

"The day will come when I have to make up my mind, I know. It is an interesting life but it can be very demanding to juggle everything in the long run."

As a resident of a region surrounded by steep mountains, but within commuter distance of Zurich – Switzerland's business hub – Landolt is used to switching from one world to the other. He says his mandate is to represent the whole diversity in his canton which ranges from rural and conservative voters to a more open-minded and urban electorate.

"I guess this makes me the perfect example of somebody from Glarus."

Judging by his appearance Landolt defies quick labeling. A smart dresser, he has a tanned face and sporty physique as well as a slightly distant manner. The little peak of gelled hair above his eyes gives him a somewhat boyish look.

Role models

He says he is proud to be Swiss and maintains he has no role models in politics. But he likes politicians who don't mince their words and put principles before popularity.

Landolt mentions three German politicians from three different parties and he is – no surprise there, as critics would say – a supporter of Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, like him a member of the Conservative Democrats.

His interest in politics is closely linked with his fascination for the Kennedy family and JFK in particular.

"Not necessarily his politics, but the ability to reach out to people, to win their support, and inspire and kindle enthusiasm," Landolt adds.

Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch

Key facts

The Swiss parliament meets four times a year in the capital Bern for three-week sessions.
The current autumn session runs until September 25.
Most parliamentarians keep their jobs while serving their mandate as politicians.

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In brief

Martin Landolt joined parliament in March 2009 and became the first elected member of the newly-founded centre-right Conservative Democratic Party.

He won a by-election for the only seat for Glarus in the House of Representatives.

His party – a more moderate offshoot of the rightwing Swiss People's Party - holds a total of five seats in the House and one seat in the Senate.

Despite the small numbers it is also represented in cabinet by Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, who succeeded her controversial predecessor Christoph Blocher in 2007.

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Landolt and the Swiss Abroad

Martin Landolt says the expatriate community increasingly has a role as informal ambassadors of the country and to complement the political and diplomatic representatives abroad.

He is against a guaranteed seat in parliament for the Swiss abroad, notably in the Senate, saying they are not directly involved in everyday life in Switzerland.

But Landolt welcomes moves to facilitate participation in elections and votes for Swiss expatriates, particularly efforts to push ahead with e-voting.

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