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People's Party wants to see big changes

(Keystone)

The rightwing Swiss People's Party, which made major gains in last week's general elections, is flexing its muscles to change faces in the seven-member cabinet.

Ueli Maurer, the party's outgoing president, has called for the changes between now and 2009, in an interview with the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.

After last week's election, in which the People's Party increased its seats in the House of Representatives by seven to 62, Maurer said that three cabinet members should go.

These were Environment and Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin of the centre-right Radical Party and Defence Minister Samuel Schmid of the People's Party.

Maurer said his time schedule was realistic because some cabinet members could then serve their year as president of the country, an office that rotates and generally is taken in turn.

His remark was seen as a reference to Couchepin, who is due to serve as president next year. The vice-president in 2008 is expected to be Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, a figurehead of the People's Party.

Formality

Blocher's re-election to the cabinet and confirmation as vice-president are increasingly being seen as a formality.

Ursula Wyss, vice-president of the Social Democratic Party and head of its parliamentary group, said as a result of the general election – the party lost seven seats – no one from its ranks would stand against Blocher.

However, she told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper that the party's parliamentarians would not be voting for Blocher.

Wyss also said she considered the Radical Party, which lost five seats last week to be over-represented in the cabinet.

Both the Radicals and the centre-right Christian Democratic Party now have 31 seats but the Radicals occupy two cabinet seats while the Christian Democrats have one.

Wyss said she did not think that the Christian Democrats would put forward a candidate for a second cabinet seat in view of the party's minor election gains – three seats.

The Green Party, which has 20 seats in the house of Representatives, has not officially decided whether to enter a candidate for the cabinet election.

Government, ministers, president

The Swiss government consists of a cabinet (also known as the Federal Council) made up of seven ministers (federal councillors), each of whom ...

Quick changes

Maurer said the cabinet changes should be carried out quickly but warned that they would not take place if too much pressure were exerted.

He noted that Couchepin was under some pressure from not only the right wing of his party and Leuenberger's cabinet seat was not set in concrete.

Maurer said as soon as "there was movement" on the issue the People's Party would speak to Schmid about his seat. "Probably that will not take place this year," he commented.

One of the People's Party's strategists, Christoph Mörgeli of Zurich, has already called for Schmid to step down but Maurer said this position was going "farther than the party".

Schmid has repeatedly been criticised by some party members for not being hardline enough as a cabinet minister

In an interview with the Sonntag newspaper, Mörgeli spoke of a "People's Party decade" and a "conservative revolution" as goals after the general elections victory.

His "revolution" strategy calls for the ousting of Schmid, Leuenberger and Couchepin in the cabinet election on December 12, as well as the introduction of party hardliners in some Swiss institutions and media, including the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation.

swissinfo with agencies

Swiss People's Party and Social Democrats

The Swiss parliamentary elections took place on October 21.

The Swiss People's Party achieved the best result in its history, gaining seven seats in the House of Representatives. It now has 62 seats.

The Social Democratic Party lost nine seats in the chamber that represents the people and has 43 seats.

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Balance of power disturbed

A prominent member of the Social Democratic Party, Zurich mayor Elmar Lederberger, says the losses of his party in the elections were painful. He argued one issue had been forgotten in the aftermath – the role of Swiss cities in the next legislative period.

He noted in the Sonntag newspaper that 70% of the population lived in urban areas. "In the political distribution of power in Bern, this is not apparent. On the contrary," he said.

Ledergerber argued that cities were the "engines of Switzerland". The image of Switzerland abroad was shaped not only by the tourist regions, but also by Swiss towns and cities.

"It is decided in Basel, Geneva, Zurich or Lugano if Switzerland can keep its competitive edge... the balance of power has been disturbed."

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