The Liberal Greens and the Conservative Democrats undeniably came off best in last Sunday’s parliamentary elections, but their policy profiles remain vague.
The two relatively new parties at the centre of the political spectrum hold key cards in the December 14 cabinet election.
Winning 18 seats more than in 2007 is no mean feat for the two groups, and comes mainly at the expense of all the five bigger parties.
“Until now discontented voters had no alternative to the main parties. The two new political forces offer this promise,” says Andreas Ladner, political scientist at Lausanne University.
His colleague from Zurich University, Michael Hermann, adds that many voters might have been fed up with the increasing polarisation in politics and the confrontational style of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party in particular.
“Part of the electorate appears to prefer a return to more rational and less aggressive political debate,” he says.
But critics say the new parties are unclear on their policies.
The Conservative Democrats ran an election campaign with the slogan The New Force, but in reality their policy is hardly much different from that of other centre-right parties.
The success of the Conservative Democrats in the elections is seen even as a broad cross-party vote of confidence in Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, the sworn political enemy of many People’s Party hardliners.
But her seat in the seven-member cabinet is still at risk, as the Conservatives mustered just over five per cent of the vote – not enough to justify representation in government, critics say.
Under an informal power sharing rule valid for more than 50 years, the Swiss cabinet has been made up of the four major political forces.
The lack of a clear profile is an accusation also levelled at the Liberal Greens. Statements by the party president, Martin Bäumle, might not have helped.
He described his group as “neither right nor left” but argued they were pursuing a pragmatic and liberal policy approach.
This prompted a malicious comment by the Basler Zeitung newspaper, said to be close to the People’s Party, ridiculing the Liberal Greens as “having the worn-out profile of a 200-year old car tyre”.
It might indeed take some clarifying from the party on how they plan to protect the environment without slowing down economic growth. Critics have accused the Liberal Greens of putting up an attractive smoke-screen while dragging out the nuclear opt-out into the year 2045.
But it remains to be seen whether the party is more than “flavour of the day” as some put it, or whether it could even serve as an example to green groups in other countries.
For the moment all eyes are on the elections to the seven-member cabinet. With four parties trying to defend their seats and the People’s Party aiming for a second seat, not everybody will be among the winners on December 14.
The jockeying for positions and allies began long ago as every party will need the support of at least two others to secure its one or two seats in cabinet.
The Christian Democrats are wooing the two new parties to form a strong centrist block at the expense of their rivals, the Radicals, the People’s Party or even the Social Democrats.
But the new parties have ruled out any formal cooperation and are insisting on their independence.
Political scientist Hermann suggests adapting the traditional power sharing formula.
“An accurate formula is no longer based on the strength of an individual party, but on three blocks on the left, the centre and the right,” he says in a column in Friday’s Bund and Tages-Anzeiger newspapers.
Putting the Greens and the Social Democrats in one basket, and the Christian Democrats and the two new parties in another is not surprising.
The novelty is probably the idea of putting the Radicals and the People’s Party together – and granting them three seats in the cabinet: One more than the centre and the left, but still one short of what they have claimed.
Both the Liberal Greens and the Conservative Democrats won 5.4% of the vote in elections to the House of Representatives.
They hold 12 and nine seats respectively in the 200-strong House.
The Liberal Greens are hoping to keep their two seats in the Senate, while the Conservative Democrats are trying to defend their only seat in next month’s run-off elections.
Both parties emerged in the past few years, as more moderate split-offs from the Greens and Swiss People’s Party respectively.end of infobox
The four main parties include the Swiss People's Party, the Social Democrats as well as the Radicals and the Christian Democrats.
They won between 26.6% and 12.3% of the vote and are all represented in the cabinet.
The Greens, the fifth group in parliament, have no representation in cabinet.
The Conservative Democrats have one seat in the cabinet, but won just over 5% of votes, as did the Liberal Greens.end of infobox