How Swiss democracy sidelines firebrands

Swiss newspapers were surprised that Oskar Freysinger's political career had lasted as long as it had Keystone

The conservative right Swiss People’s Party has been dealt a heavy blow after its provocative vice-president, Oskar Freysinger, failed to retain his seat in elections in canton Valais. Sunday’s deselection reflects how Switzerland’s system of democracy keeps in check politicians who are deemed to have gone too far.

This content was published on March 20, 2017 - 15:30,

Freysinger, 56, has spearheaded many People’s Party campaigns and has been a leading member of a committee that led a successful campaign to ban minarets in 2009 and that is now seeking a ban on the Islamic face veil.

Swiss newspapers on Monday were surprised that Freysinger’s career had even lasted as long as it had. This, the Tages-Anzeiger and Der Bund pointed out, was a man who proudly displayed in his home a flag used by Neo-Nazis, who relativised the Armenian genocide and who worked closely with someone who denied the Srebrenica massacre.

“Someone whose programme is largely made up of distasteful provocations is in the wrong place in a cantonal government,” they said. “Freysinger’s deselection is a pleasant counterpoint in a period when populism is on the march.”

In Switzerland, politicians who are unable to compromise often pay the price. Ten years ago, Christoph Blocher, a billionaire and the People’s Party strongman, lost his seat in cabinet after centrist parties regarded his combative manner as a threat to the tradition of consensus in government.

Turning from populism?

The news of Freysinger’s defenestration came as the Zurich branch of the Swiss People’s Party celebrated its centenary. In the space of 100 years, it has grown from its farmers’ base to the most popular political party in Switzerland, with the greatest number of seats in the House of Representatives.

Could Freysinger’s fall from grace be a sign that the Swiss are beginning to grow tired of People’s Party-style politics at a time when populism is on the rise in other parts of Europe? looks back at the successes and failures of Freysinger’s party:

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