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Attempts to ban far-right party “will fail”

Attempts are being made to shut down the PNOS website

Moves underway to ban a small far-right party on the grounds that its members are racist and xenophobic are unlikely to succeed, according to experts.

The Party of Nationally Orientated Swiss (PNOS) has made it clear that it will vigorously defend all legal attempts to undermine the right to “freedom of expression”.

Last month four PNOS members were found guilty of racial discrimination by a district court in canton Aargau.

The individuals concerned are appealing against the ruling. But this has not stopped the Swiss section of an international peace organisation from launching legal action aimed at banning the party outright.

Heinz Kaiser, a project leader with World Citizens, confirmed that legal proceedings had been launched.

“I am also asking for the party’s internet site to be shut down,” he told swissinfo.

But experts question whether there are any legal grounds for banning PNOS, which has enjoyed limited success after two of its members were elected to serve in local government.

No legal grounds

Hans Hirter, a political scientist at Bern University, said he could see no justifiable grounds for forcing the party to disband.

“It’s one thing to indict individuals if they are breaking criminal law… but there is no legal reason to ban the party because of this,” he said.

“Historically speaking, bans of this kind have only happened during exceptional times. The government prohibited the Nazi party and also the Communist party during the Second World War. But just after the war these bans were lifted.”

According to Hirter, since 1945 there have been no precedents for banning a political party in Switzerland – and he believes this is unlikely to change in the near future.

“One reason for this is that there is no registration of parties in Switzerland. Anybody can make a party, which in principle is just an association of at least three people.

“The federal administration neither officially registers nor prohibits parties… so [attempts to ban PNOS] will certainly fail in the courts.”

Mixed reaction

Of the four parties in government, only the centre-left Social Democrats have come out in favour of a ban on PNOS.

Spokesman Nicolas Galladé told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper that prohibiting the party was justified on the grounds that it does not have a “democratic platform”.

But the centre-right Radicals argue that a ban would achieve nothing, because “two weeks later the party would simply reappear under a new name”.

The rightwing Swiss People’s Party is against a ban, arguing that the existence of PNOS helps to “prove that we [ourselves] are not on the edge of the political Right”.

Hans Stutz, a journalist who monitors far-right activity on behalf of the Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism, is also against imposing a ban on a party which he believes will in any case pick up few votes in future.

“[PNOS] will try to put forward more candidates for local parliaments and local councils. But I doubt whether the group will be very successful,” he said.

Fringe party

Hirter agrees that PNOS – with or without the publicity surrounding the ongoing legal wrangling over its existence – is not destined to be anything more than a fringe party.

“I don’t expect the party to pick up many more votes. They could have some success on a very local level in small villages where the People’s Party isn’t present, but that’s about it,” he said.

Analysts believe that one explanation for the lack of support for PNOS is the fact that the Swiss do not have to wait for federal elections to vent their anger or frustration at the ballot box.

“[Far-right parties] have never really become strong because the Swiss system of direct democracy gives voters the chance to express their anti-government or anti-immigration feelings on a regular basis.

“In other words, there’s no need to condense all those feelings into one [particularly rightwing] vote for a party every four years… when people can cast their ballots on a variety of referendums throughout the year.”

Hirter adds that voters who lean towards the right of the political spectrum are also far more likely to support an established party, even if its views are more moderate than their own.

“Anyone who wants to make a political career on the rightwing will go to the People’s Party. They are not going to go to the trouble of establishing a new party.

“It’s also much more attractive for young people to vote for a strong party with well-known politicians… than for a small obscure party that nobody really knows.”

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh

PNOS was founded in September 2000.
According to a 2004 federal report on extremism there are between 100 and 130 PNOS members in Switzerland.
Around 60 belong to sections in and around Basel.
The party is believed to have been behind a far-right demonstration which disrupted Swiss National Day celebrations on the Rütli meadow on August 1.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR