Politicians to slug it out for media spotlight

Personality politics will play a big role in campaigning ahead of federal elections due to take place at the end of 2007, a public relations expert says.

This content was published on January 2, 2007

Mark Balsiger tells swissinfo some cabinet ministers are already sending out a clear political message.

swissinfo: 2007 is election year, with parliamentary and cabinet elections in October and December, respectively. Are they going to be exciting affairs?

Mark Balsiger: They are already. The election campaign actually kicked off with Christoph Blocher's incredibly well stage-managed visit to Turkey [when the justice minister caused a storm by attacking Swiss anti-racism laws].

swissinfo: Do you think the Swiss People's Party and the Green Party will continue to win over people who used to vote for the centre?

M. B.: Over the past three years the Greens have made tremendous progress in all cantons. This is very likely to continue and be seen at a national level in October.

The Green Party has indeed become a viable voting option for many people. They have good politicians, and many typically "Green" issues have become daily news, such as flooding or melting glaciers.

As to the Swiss People's Party, they have room to grow in central Switzerland and in the French-speaking region. They are the smartest party when it comes to media campaigns. They will continue to score highly on issues such as asylum or foreigners. Just look at the minaret question which plays on the population's fears.

swissinfo: What's your view of the Social Democratic Party?

M.B.: They are the anti-People's Party. They have grown in strength over the past 12 years, but in terms of political content they have brought little to the table.

Positioning themselves as the anti-Blocher party is still a valid approach, but one day the threat from Christoph Blocher will no longer be there. That's when we'll see if they are able to propose any new ideas.

And unlike the Greens, the Social Democrats are unable to appeal to voters from the centre who see them as much too leftwing.

swissinfo: Will the centre parties – the Christian Democratic Party and the Radical Party – once again be the losers in this new electoral campaign?

M.B.: They've been struggling for a few years now. But thanks to Doris Leuthard, when she was president of the Christian Democrats, the party has managed to shake off its image as a losing party which had stuck for almost a decade.

But when you look at the hard facts, you see that the Christian Democratic Party continues to lose ground in the cantons, even though their media image, which really counts nowadays, sends a different message. The big question mark is over the Radicals.

swissinfo: The proportion of women in parliament currently stands at 25 per cent. Do you see this figure changing at all?

M.B.: I hope to see more women in parliament. But I don't foresee any great changes as most of the parties have the same campaigns as in the past.

The Social Democrats and the Greens talk about quotas and encourage female candidates, while the parties on the right haven't woken up to the issue. And for the Christian Democrats women are at most figureheads.

swissinfo: How difficult is it for people wanting to enter politics?

M.B.: It's true that it's always easier to succeed in parliament when you've climbed the ladder step by step. The big parties, especially in the larger cantons, have a strong sense of hierarchy. It is very difficult to follow the traditional political career path quickly.

swissinfo: Has the nature of the electoral campaign changed over recent years?

M.B.: Yes, considerably. This is not due to politics, but the media, who now assume the role of intermediary. This has become possible following the almost complete disappearance of the "political" press. The fight for media coverage has become tougher, as it is now essential.

swissinfo: The focus of elections seems to have switched from the parties to the personalities. Is this right?

M.B.: Personality politics is a worldwide phenomenon that also affects Switzerland, where it has been visible for some time. And the parties with people who exude charm, charisma and credibility are able to pass on their political messages.

Two examples of this can be seen in the cabinet: Christoph Blocher and Doris Leuthard. In the past, people who had large majorities behind them were elected to government, not strong personalities. When they entered the cabinet they left their party membership card in the cloakroom. This is no longer the case.

swissinfo-interview: Gaby Ochsenbein

In brief

Mark Balsiger, 39, is head of Border Crossing public relations agency based in Bern.

Balsiger studied journalism and wrote a thesis entitled "Election campaigns in Switzerland, Britain and the United States".

He worked for 12 years for different media and followed a national course in public relations.

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