More than 40 Swiss living abroad have announced their candidacy for the upcoming Swiss parliamentary elections – a far higher number than in the last polls in 2003.This content was published on August 15, 2007 - 08:26
Most are on the list of the rightwing Swiss People's Party. Its biggest rival, the centre-left Social Democrats, have failed to field any candidates.
Switzerland's main political parties appear to be waking up to the potential of voters who live abroad. At present, almost one in ten Swiss - around 650,000 people - live in foreign climes, of which 111,000 are registered voters.
Of the 41 Swiss abroad standing for this October's parliamentary elections, 33 are representing the People's Party.
As for the centre-right parties, six have put their names forward for the Radicals and one for the Christian Democrats. The Green Party, Switzerland's fifth largest party, is proposing one candidate.
In 2003, just 17 people living abroad stood for election.
"The Swiss People's Party is playing a leading role in mobilising the Swiss abroad," said Ueli Maurer, the president of the People's Party, announcing his party's candidates in the Swiss capital, Bern, on Tuesday.
The nominees, who come from 22 countries across five continents, will be in the running in the cantons of Zurich, Geneva and Schaffhausen. Maurer believes that the chances of winning are the best in Zurich.
Among the leading candidates for Zurich are Peter Simon Kaul, an entrepreneur based in Germany, and Inge Schütz, head of the trade department in the Swiss embassy in Sweden.
"It is very important that we who live abroad and who know other political systems can bring our experience into Switzerland," Schütz told swissinfo.
But Schütz and Kaul are nevertheless realistic about their chances of being elected. The Swiss abroad have no fixed number of seats in parliament.
"It would seem hard to be successful under the present system," admitted Schütz. "If more Swiss abroad voted, we would perhaps be able to find a solution for the future about their representation in parliament."
For Schütz, it is very important to encourage more Swiss living abroad to vote.
It is only this way that relevant topics, such as how to draw social security while living outside Switzerland, and protection during times of crisis such as a tsunami, would be placed higher on the domestic agenda, she added.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Social Democrats have not found any candidates.
A party spokeswoman said the lack of interest stemmed from the large amount of time and effort needed for contesting an election and the feeling among the Swiss abroad that the chances of success were low.
The party has however already proposed giving the Swiss abroad their own seat in parliament as the "27th canton", she added.
This an opinion largely shared by political expert Claude Longchamp, who wants two seats allocated to the Swiss abroad. This was already the case in canton Jura, in the west of the country, he said in a magazine interview published on Tuesday.
Longchamp added that it was well worth wooing voters who live abroad.
Their numbers were now roughly equivalent to that of a medium-sized canton such as Neuchâtel and the number of register voters had increased steadily from 67,000 in 1999 to today's 111,000, said the expert.
645,010 Swiss lived abroad in 2006 (+1.7% on 2005 and +11.1% since 2000).
111,249 of the 494,802 expatriates aged over 18 - or 22.5% - have registered to vote.
Most Swiss abroad live in the European Union. There are also big communities in the United States, Canada and Australia.
Since 1992 Swiss abroad have the right to take part in federal votes/elections via mail from abroad.
There is currently no Swiss expatriate in parliament.
Swiss abroad image
Swiss people living abroad have a good image among their compatriots in Switzerland, a survey revealed on Tuesday.
A majority of the around 1,000 people surveyed said the Swiss abroad were good for the economy and represented a modern Switzerland.
Almost four out of five knew that their counterparts abroad are allowed to vote in elections. 70% knew they had to register at diplomatic representations.
However, 60% thought that the Swiss abroad were eligible for Swiss social security, which is not the case unless contributions have been paid.
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