Ogi succession unlikely to threaten government stability

Swiss president, Adolf Ogi (left) and the hardliner Christoph Blocher. Ogi does not plan a major role in the People's Party. Keystone

The resignation of the Swiss defence minister and president, Adolf Ogi, is not expected to lead to a government crisis, according to leading politicians and analysts.

This content was published on October 19, 2000 - 09:00

Most political leaders, as well as Swiss newspapers, ruled out a threat to Switzerland's 41-year-old "magic formula" system of government, under which the four main parties divide up the seven cabinet posts.

Ogi, who announced on Wednesday that he would step down at the end of the year, is the sole representative of the right-wing Swiss People's Party in the cabinet.

Parliament is to meet on December 6 to elect a successor. Leaders of the other three parties in government have made it clear the People's Party will have to nominate a "moderate" replacement rather than right-wing hardliner.

They expressed confidence that a consensus candidate could be found rather than an individual who would oppose government policy.

Christine Beerli, leader of the Radical parliamentary group, told swissinfo: "I know enough People's Party politicians who can fit the bill, meaning that they work constructively towards common solutions."

The newly-elected president of the Social Democratic Party, Christiane Brunner, echoed the sentiment: "We need someone in the cabinet who both enjoys the confidence of the People's Party, but who is also willing to work constructively on Switzerland's future".

Brunner had threatened to oust the People's Party from the cabinet altogether if it put forward a hardline right-wing nominee. But on Wednesday she ruled out torpedoing the "magic formula".

Swiss newspapers on Thursday were also confidence that Ogi's resignation would not destabilise the government. The tabloid "Blick", said there was no question of the other three government parties taking the opportunity to exclude the People's Party from government.

In any case, said Blick, the centre-right Radical and Christian Democrat parties are "not strong enough to do so".

The Neue Zurcher Zeitung called on the People's Party to put forward a suitable and consensus-minded candidate, when parliament meets to elect Ogi's successor. It said the party should actually put forward two candidates to ensure a truly democratic vote.

The Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger took a swipe at the People's Party, which has increasingly acted like an opposition party while remaining in government. "Has the time not come for earnest discussions with the People's Party about ensuring a minimum level of consensus over key issues?" it asks.

Ogi, 58, refused to speculate about his future when he announced his resignation on Wednesday. French-language Swiss papers suggest he may have a future at the United Nations.

"Le Temps" said he could become the UN High Commissioner for Kosovo. "Le Matin" echoed the idea, but says Ogi - a keen sports enthusiast - could also take a job at the Lausanne-based International Olympic Committee.

Ogi said on Wednesday he would leave office on December 31, when his one-year mandate as president expires. He is the longest-serving member of the cabinet, having become a minister in 1987.

He cited personal and political reasons for his departure, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. He had been defence minister for the past five years, and started in 1987 as minister for transport, energy and communications.

He twice held the largely ceremonial post of president - a position which rotates on a yearly basis among the seven members of the cabinet.

Ogi told a news conference in Berne that, like a sportsman, he was stepping down at the "highpoint" of his career.

He rejected criticism that, in leaving the defence department during a major reorganisation of the Swiss army, he was leaving unfinished business behind him.

"It's the perfect moment to leave," he said. "Politicians always leave things behind them. If I were to say I can't leave now because this is not finished or that, I would be putting myself first and not the country, and that is something I have never done."

There have been a number of tributes to Ogi. The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, praised Ogi for his major contribution to strengthening Switzerland's international commitment.

"He is a man of great energy, and a man with an extraordinary capacity for human contact," said Annan.

Speaking for the Swiss government, the transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, expressed sadness at the decision.

The four parties in government, including Ogi's Swiss People's Party, all expressed regret at his departure. The president of the People's Party, Ueli Maurer, said he would be missed in government.

The three other parties, the Radicals, Social Democrats and Christian Democrats paid tribute to his work.

Ogi's resignation is expected to lead to several weeks of political wrangling before both houses of parliament meet to elect his successor.


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