Press welcomes "grandmother" into government

The Swiss press reacted positively to Calmy-Rey's victory

Switzerland's media have given a warm welcome to the election of Geneva's Micheline Calmy-Rey to the federal government.

This content was published on December 5, 2002 - 09:47

But most papers warned that Wednesday's vote was the opening round of next year's federal elections.

Switzerland's French-language newspapers had the most to say about parliament's choice for the vacant cabinet post, after weeks of speculation about who was best suited to represent the country's biggest minority.

The "Tribune de Genève" called the choice of Calmy-Rey a victory for Geneva.

"Parliament has recognised Geneva as being part of Switzerland... guaranteeing that the country's two biggest cities [the other being Zurich] are represented in the government," wrote the paper.

Both Calmy-Rey and Ruth Lüthi, her chief rival and fellow Social Democrat, are based in the French-speaking part of the country.

Some papers had attacked Fribourg's Lüthi - the party's second official candidate - for her Swiss-German roots in the run-up to Wednesday's election.

In the aftermath of the election, that issue was put on the backburner by the majority of Swiss press.

But "Le Temps" warned that Calmy-Rey would have to be the link between urban centres and the countryside, and between French- and German-speakers.

Anger in Fribourg

In Fribourg - Lüthi's home canton - there was still some lingering bitterness about Wednesday's election.

"La Liberté" wrote that Fribourg's Social Democrats had been "tricked" by the party's national president, Geneva's Christiane Brunner.

The German-language "Freiburger Nachrichten" added that Lüthi never had the slightest chance of winning, once the debate focused on the issue of identity.

It said the campaign before the vote was "grotesque, with occasional racist undertones".

Most of the country's papers seemed to have picked on one vital element of Calmy-Rey's curriculum vitae: the fact that she is a grandmother.

The headline in the German-language tabloid "Blick" on Thursday was simply: "Félicitations grand-maman!" ("Congratulations grandma" in French).

References to her status as a grandmother were the norm in many newspapers.

Most of them found it easier to focus on the "granny" factor rather than the fact that Calmy-Rey was the fourth woman elected to the federal government.

Pre-election posturing

But it was not all fluff. Most papers highlighted the fact that Switzerland's rightwing People's Party used Wednesday's election to launch its campaign for next year's federal elections.

While parliament may have chosen to keep the government's so-called "Magic Formula" of two Radicals, two Christian Democrats, two Social Democrats and one representative of the People's Party, newspapers warned that the formula could be on its last legs.

The "Berner Zeitung" said that the Christian Democrats' second seat in government was under real threat, given the strong showing on Wednesday by the People's Party candidate, Toni Bortoluzzi.

Bortoluzzi eventually went out of the race in the fourth round of voting.

Bern's "Bund" wrote that the "People's Party was cheeky, misusing the vote as an electoral platform".

The paper added that given the party's strength, the government would be wise to involve it more in the decision process.

Battle to come

"Le Temps" said that the People's Party had now assumed the mantle of the opposition, which would force the government to make tough decisions and be more open.

The "Blick" added that the People's Party had taken on the role of the underdog, turning the election into a "propaganda show".

The tabloid pointed out that the populist party had set down its marker for next year's elections, adding that the other parties would have to prepare themselves for a tough fight.

"Le Matin" criticised the behaviour of the People's Party in parliament on Wednesday when its representatives chose not to vote after their candidate was kicked out of the race.

It said the decision showed that the party wasn't prepared to shoulder its responsibilities.

Zurich's "Tages-Anzeiger" said two parties made significant progress on Wednesday.

The Social Democrats showed new strength because they were able to get their main candidate elected, while Bortoluzzi's strong showing gave the People's Party a chance to show itself as a "belligerent opposition".

The "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" added that the People's Party was effectively challenging the electorate, saying "you are either with us or against us".

However, the paper warned that the plan could backfire, with the other government parties choosing to unite against the threat.

swissinfo, Scott Capper

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