With less than four months to go before Swiss general elections, several leading politicians have been sharpening their knives. A major row has now broken out between conservative populist Christoph Blocher and Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin.This content was published on July 5, 1999 - 14:51
With less than four months to go before Swiss general elections, several leading politicians have been sharpening their knives. A major row has now broken out between conservative populist Christoph Blocher and Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin.
Blocher and his People's Party have been gaining ground of late. The latest pre-election opinion poll forecast that the People's Party - currently the fourth largest party in government - would overtake the Christian Democrats and rival the other main centre-right party, the Radicals, in parliament.
That might provide something of a political landslide. The People's Party, currently exploiting popular fears about the large influx of refugees from Kosovo, could then lay claim to a second cabinet seat - thus destroying the comfortable four-party agreement on representation in the government, known as the magic formula, which has ensured political stability since 1959.
Late last month, Blocher again took the political initiative with a highly populist proposal which would ensure that in future popular initiatives would be voted on within six months, without government or parliament taking a stand on the issue.
The proposal has brought the political establishment down on Blocher's head.
The cabinet wheeled out Economics Minister Couchepin of the Radicals to take on Blocher in vitriolic interviews, particularly in Sunday newspapers. Blocher taunted the other political parties, saying there was no Swiss politician capable of matching him. Blocher has, in turn, been accused of being anti-democratic.
This is no ordinary pre-election spat. Questions are now openly being asked about the future of Adolf Ogi, Defence Minister and the People's Party sole representative in the cabinet. Ogi belongs to the party's liberal wing and on virtually every major issue, such as European integration and Switzerland's international isolation, he disagrees profoundly with Blocher.
Some politicians and newspapers have called for Ogi's resignation, saying his political position has become untenable. Ogi, who has said he wants to complete his term next year as Swiss president, says he will consider his future over the summer vacation.
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