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Maurer joins Blocher in race for cabinet seat

Maurer looks relaxed as he accepts being a candidate

(Keystone)

The former president of the rightwing Swiss People's Party, Ueli Maurer, has become the second party candidate for a seat in Switzerland's seven-member cabinet.

The party's parliamentary group announced his candidature on Thursday, a day after the party leadership had nominated Christoph Blocher, the former justice minister.

A vote of the Federal Assembly – a joint session of the House of Representatives and Senate – will decide on December 10 who will succeed the outgoing defence minister, Samuel Schmid. He announced he was stepping down earlier this month.

The People's Party, the strongest in parliament, has been in self-styled opposition after Blocher was not confirmed in his position last December. It said in a statement that it was now time for the party to assume government responsibility again.

At this time last year, Blocher and Schmid represented it in government. The situation changed when Blocher was forced out by parliament, which approved party colleague Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf to replace him.

Snubbed by the party, both Widmer-Schlumpf and Schmid left to join the new Conservative Democratic Party.

Years of experience

The People's Party statement said Blocher and Maurer had years of experience in management and were well acquainted with the federal administration and how it functioned.

It described the "double ticket" - supported by 60 votes to none - as the best possible solution for the vacant government seat.

It invited other political parties to support its choice by making "a first step to the restoration of concordance" in the Swiss government system.

The other main Swiss political parties wasted no time in giving their reaction to the double ticket.

The president of the centre-right Christian Democratic Party, Christoph Darbellay, said Maurer had a good chance of being elected, adding that his party would hold hearings with both candidates on the eve of the election.

No woman

Christian Levrat, president of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, noted that none of the other main political parties supported Blocher, adding that the double ticket without a woman showed the "poorness of the People's Party".

The vice-president of the centre-right Radical Party, Isabelle Moret, deplored that the ticket was in practice only a single candidacy. She said that it showed the "lack of courage" of the People's Party, which was largely under "Blocher's influence".

She added that her party would hold hearings with both candidates and would tell Blocher why it did not want him.

"A party which has the support of 30 per cent of the population must be represented in the government but with respect to concordance," she commented.

The Greens did not mince their words, explaining in a statement that they would vote for neither Blocher nor Maurer.

They argued that the People's Party's double ticket came as no surprise and would probably guarantee that Maurer entered the government with a policy of a hardliner, who "defamed others and who was partly to blame for environmental problems and the financial crisis".

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The political make-up of the Swiss cabinet changed in 2003 after more than 40 years with two representatives each from the Christian Democrats, the Radicals and the Social Democrats and one member of the Swiss People's Party.

Five years ago the People's Party increased its share of the vote and won an additional seat at the expense of the Christian Democrats.

People's Party figurehead Christoph Blocher became justice minister, but parliament refused to confirm him in December 2007. It elected instead Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.

The move led to a drawn-out row between hardliners and moderates inside the party, including the banning of the Graubünden cantonal party chapter.

Defence Minister Samuel Schmid is stepping down, leaving a vacant seat in cabinet elections on December 10.

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Ueli Maurer

Maurer, aged 57, has been a member of the Swiss House of Representatives, the parliamentary chamber that represents the Swiss people, since November 1991.

He was president of the Swiss People's Party from 1996 until earlier this year.

Maurer is currently president of the Zurich section of the People's Party.

He admits that it was a hard decision to accept standing as a candidate and he only did so on condition that it was a double ticket with Blocher.

Maurer claims that if he were elected to the cabinet it would be difficult because the defence ministry is in a "bad state" and it would not be easy to act as the sole People's Party representative.

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