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Praise and criticism for outgoing minister

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The Swiss press have acknowledged the statesmanship of outgoing Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin, but say he is leaving behind a lot of unfinished business.

This content was published on June 13, 2009 - 09:39

On Friday, the 67-year-old minister from the centre-right Radical party announced he would step down in October after 11 years in the cabinet.

"He was reliable when it came to the defence of institutions," said the Basler Zeitung.

However Basel's daily added that Couchepin's resignation was long overdue because his attempt to stop the haemorrhaging of spending on social security was a "colossal failure".

The German-language Südostschweiz played on the French speaker's self-assured, at times, arrogant public appearances by calling him "Roi [King] Pascal".

He often reacted with a "certain stubbornness", which was not an advantage when dealing with the minefield that has become of the country's health policy.

He was not a man to concern himself with the details, wrote Fribourg's La Liberté.

However, Nouvelliste, the paper in Couchepin's home canton of Valais said he was someone who was not afraid to think out of the box and resisted going along with the latest trend.

Outspoken

"He never shied away from speaking out even when the truth was unpleasant to hear," said Nouvelliste.

The newspaper in the capital, Bern, the Berner Zeitung, said his successor must possess these qualities too. The cabinet does not need a person who goes whichever way the wind is blowing or is too eager to toe the party line.

Zurich's Tages-Anzeiger also said it hoped the search for a successor would focus on a politician's credentials and not his or her party allegiance.

Geneva's Le Temps said the timing for a new cabinet minister was right since parliament – which chooses cabinet ministers – will this time not have to consider age, sex or the candidate's canton. This will make a large choice possible, Le Temps argued.

However, most commentators agreed that Couchepin's replacement would - like him - probably be a French speaker from the centre-right of the political spectrum.

Business representative

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) also looked ahead to Couchepin's successor, making a plea for a representative from the Swiss world of business. This, said the NZZ, is what the government currently lacks.

The Zurich paper called on the Radicals to carefully evaluate potential candidates.

According to the magic formula that dictates how the seven cabinet seats are distributed among the largest parties, the Radicals are in the pole position to nominate Couchepin's successor.

The Quotidien Jurassien did some reading between the lines, saying the interior minister's decision to step down at 67 is symbolic, since it is exactly the age he would like to see the retirement age raised to.

This is just one of the issues that put Couchepin at odds with many policymakers in Switzerland – even those from his own party.

swissinfo.ch with agencies

In brief

Switzerland's government is made up of seven ministers chosen by parliament.

Cabinet elections take place every four years, but a minister is free to chose the moment of his or her resignation.

The ministers share collective responsibility for the government as there is no prime minister or head of government.

The post of Swiss president is largely ceremonial and it rotates every year according to a system of seniority.

Five political parties are currently represented in the government: The centre-right Radicals, the Christian Democrats and the Conservative Democrats, as well as the centre-left Social Democrats and the rightwing Swiss People's Party.

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Pascal Couchepin's political career

1968-1998: Member of the Martigny local council
1984-1998: Mayor of Martigny
1979-1998: Parliamentarian as member of the House of Representatives for the Radical Party
1998-2002: Economics Minister
2002-2009: Interior Minister
2003 and 2008: Swiss President

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