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Political parties return to the fray after summer break

Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, hopes his People's Party will make greater inroads into French speaking Switzerland. Keystone / Steffen Schmidt

Party politics will take centre stage in Switzerland in the next few days with three of the four government parties laying out their policies following the summer break.

This content was published on August 18, 2000 - 10:15

The three parties, holding delegate meetings in different parts of the country, will spell out their positions on two issues - a proposed tax on non-renewable energy and a move to limit the number of foreigners to 18 per cent. Both questions will be decided in a referendum on September 24.

While the centre-right parties meet - the Radicals in Delemont, and the Christian Democrats in Basel - most political interest will be focused on Geneva on Saturday, when the right-wing Swiss People's Party hold their delegate assembly.

It will be the first time for 10 years that the People's Party has held such a meeting in Geneva - a clear indication it wants to make greater political inroads into French speaking Switzerland. Its support there is small, and its leaders are anxious to show that the party's reach extends beyond German Switzerland.

"Our aim for the next federal elections in 2003 will be to make gains in French speaking Switzerland," said the party's secretary-general, Jean-Blaise Defago. The party made significant gains, but mainly in German-speaking areas, in the federal elections last October.

Its standing in Geneva suffered last year when a leading member of the branch was accused of having neo-Nazi links and replaced.

Most eyes at the party assembly will be on its two leading antagonists: the current president and defence minister, Adolf Ogi - who is also its only representative in the cabinet - and the hardline populist, Christoph Blocher. Ogi represents the more liberal canton Berne-based wing of the party; Blocher's power base is centred in the Zurich area.

They have disagreed publicly over a number of issues, including Switzerland's position on Europe, and their speeches will be watched carefully. Opponents of Ogi have openly questioned whether he should still belong to the party.

Differences within the party are expected to emerge during the debate over the "18 per cent initiative" - a proposal to curb the number of foreigners in Switzerland.

The party's presence in Geneva has also aroused resentment in certain quarters. A protest picnic by left-wingers is being staged at the same time as the delegate assembly.

swissinfo with agencies

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