Following Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf’s announcement that she will not stand for re-election to the Swiss cabinet on December 9, no political party is disputing the claim of the conservative right Swiss People’s Party to her seat. Who will fill it remains unclear.
“There have been worse days,” said a jubilant People’s Party president Toni Brunner on Wednesday, adding that now his party could take more responsibility.
“It’s important in future that voices critical of asylum and EU policies are present in cabinet discussions. Anything other than two seats for the People’s Party would not be accepted by voters.” Brunner has ruled himself out of the cabinet job.
Widmer-Schlumpf is a member of the centre-right Conservative Democratic Party, which got only 4.1% of the vote in federal elections on October 18. The People’s Party notched up a record 29.4%, which, it says, entitles it to a second seat in the seven-person cabinet, whose members are elected not by voters but by the 246 members of the two chambers of parliament.
Philipp Müller, president of the centre-right Radical Party, which has two cabinet seats with only 16.4% of the vote, backed the People’s Party’s claim, saying “the largest political force must be integrated and involved”.
He didn’t want to speculate on possible candidates or on whether his party would refuse to support certain People’s Party individuals.
The centrist Christian Democratic Party also saw a second People’s Party seat as legitimate, although it demanded candidates should be prepared to adhere to the principles of concordance and collegiality.
Even the leftwing parties – the Social Democrats and the Greens – didn’t contest a second People’s Party seat but said the responsibility now was on the centrist parties to nominate candidates who recognise human rights and are committed to maintaining the bilateral accords with the European Union.
The Green Party warned that if Widmer-Schlumpf were replaced by a People’s Party hardliner, it would be a step backwards to the obstructionist policies of the 2003-2007 government.
The big losers of the day, the Conservative Democrats, were sceptical. Party president Martin Landolt said they would now see whether the People’s Party was serious about a second seat – “otherwise they’ll have missed their chance”.
He claimed the Conservative Democrats were not going to play tactical games but would take a good look at the People’s Party candidates “and then form an opinion”.
Nevertheless, Landolt tried to put a positive spin on things, seeing the exit of Widmer-Schlumpf as an opportunity. “In the past we were only ever seen as the Widmer-Schlumpf party,” he said.
swissinfo.ch and agencies