Christa Markwalder, a politician formerly at the centre of a lobbying scandal in parliament, has become Switzerland’s newest speaker of the House of Representatives.
The 40-year-old parliamentarian from the centre-right Radical Party was elected to her new position with 159 of the possible 183 yes votes from her colleagues. Formally, she is now the most powerful woman in Swiss government.
Elected to parliament in 2003, Markwalder has sometimes deviated from the Radicals’ party line, such as in energy policy. When it comes to socio-political issues, she belongs to the more left-wing faction of her party. She is also part of the parliamentary committee on foreign policy, where she has worked on issues related to ties between Switzerland and the United States.
Last year, Markwalder dominated headlines in Switzerland for her involvement with a lobbying scandal in which she brought forward for consideration parliamentary questions about relations between Switzerland and Kazakhstan that had been written by a public relations firm. That firm, Burson-Marsteller, had been hired by the Kazakh political party Ak Zhol.
Markwalder pleaded “naiveté” in the affair and was also accused of having breached the rules of confidentiality in parliament by giving information to the PR firm. She did not suffer any consequences as a result of the scandal, but it did open a public debate on the influence of lobbying in Switzerland.
On Monday, after her election as speaker, Markwalder thanked parliament for its trust in her. She also called for re-establishing relations with the European Union and finding common answers to the refugee crisis and terror threats.
"Our constitutional principles, the European Convention on Human Rights and international law are cornerstones of our rule of law and secure citizens’ rights,” she said.
Markwalder, who is also a cellist, treated her colleagues to a performance on the occasion of her election, joining parliamentarians Balthasar Glättli, Kathrin Bertschy and Maja Ingold in playing works by Antonin Dvorák for string quartet. She then drew several parallels between music and politics, declaring cooperation essential to both.
Also on Monday, Markwalder’s 36-year-old Radical Party colleague Raphaël Comte was elected as speaker of the Senate by a unanimous vote.
swissinfo.ch and agencies