Centrist parties lack ‘initiative savviness’

With just 8% of the vote, the energy tax reform initiative elicited one of the worst results in Swiss history Keystone

The rejection of centrist parties’ initiatives aimed at their respective electorates shows they haven’t mastered the art of winning broader public support, Swiss newspapers concluded following Sunday’s massive defeats at the ballot box.

This content was published on March 9, 2015 - 11:09 and agencies

The Christian Democrats’ populist initiative calling for tax breaks for families only managed to garner the support of a quarter of the electorate. And the Liberal Green Party took a beating with 92% of voters rejecting its initiative on replacing value added tax (VAT) with a new levy on fossil fuels, one of the worst vote results in Swiss history.

After the defeat, one can conclude that initiatives are not the political instruments best suited to centrist parties, stated  the German-language paper Tages-Anzeiger.

The daily tabloid Blick commented that the centrist parties have been envious of the conservative right Swiss People’s Party, whose initiatives have met with considerable success, and wanted to emulate them. But parties risk annoying voters if they merely use initiatives as promotional vehicles for their pet campaigns, the paper warned.

The French-language Le Temps newspaper said that the vote results showcased the difficulties faced by centrist parties in mastering popular initiatives. They had counted on issues they felt were attractive and key to their respective electorates – families and the environment. However, the themes chosen for the initiatives were not convincing enough for voters, according to the paper.

Future impact

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung found that the Christian Democrats failed to do their homework and that the self-proclaimed “party of the family” clearly missed the chance to fulfil the real needs of modern families.

It added that the end result won’t truly show itself until after the parliamentary elections in October, when it will become clear whether the party did itself a favour with the initiative and whether its strategy with regard to family politics will pay off - or not.

The issue of improving the lives of families will survive the failure of this particular initiative, said Le Temps, indicating that this is a topic that will not disappear off the political radar despite the current setback.

However, the same cannot be said of the doomed energy tax reform initiative, according to the media.

The abysmal failure of the Liberal Greens’ initiative was touted as a “debacle with consequences”  by Tages-Anzeiger. The party that views itself as pragmatic centrists instead allowed itself to be branded as unworldly utopians, garnering the worst vote result for an initiative since 1929.

However, according to the paper, it is not just the party that will have to pay a price. The result also gave pause to promoters of Switzerland’s new energy strategy, since the definitive “no” to the Liberal Greens’ strategy could be a sign of how unpopular artificial price increases in heating oil, petrol and electricity are. It also highlighted that threatening climate issues are still far from the conscience of the majority of the public.

Le Temps also said that the poorly conceived initiative could complicate the government’s new energy strategy, which was meant to ensure a phase-out of nuclear power by 2050.

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