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Rightwing looks west

The rightwing Swiss People’s Party is hoping to broaden its popularity in the French-speaking part of Switzerland in October’s elections.

This content was published on September 15, 2003 - 12:37

Of its 45 members in the House of Representatives, only three were elected in French-speaking cantons.

The base of support for the party, which is leading in the opinion polls, is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. But political analyst Andreas Ladner expects the party to do well at the ballot box this time around throughout the country.

“They’ve made a tremendous effort to win support in the French-speaking cantons,” he told swissinfo.

“I expect them to gain a number of votes and after this election the party will probably not be seen as mainly a German-speaking one.”

Popularity peak

Ladner says that although the party is currently leading the opinion polls with 26 per cent, it would probably consider a 23 per cent share of the vote to be a great success.

What the party has to do now, according to Ladner, is to build on the success it had in the last parliamentary elections in 1999, when it won its highest ever number of seats in the House of Representatives.

“It is not that important for the party to grow again,” he said.

“It has probably come close to the maximum support it can expect and now it has to consolidate by increasing the number of issues in which they put forward new concepts.”

Asylum

That is a step that the party has already taken, according to its vice secretary-general, Aliki Panayides.

She admits that the party is often identified as concentrating on specific issues such as Swiss relations with the European Union and asylum.

But she insists that the party has much broader appeal and that is reflected in the level of support in both the German and French-speaking parts of the country.

“People are realising that we are strong on many issues and not just the EU and asylum, but also taxation, crime, violence and drugs,” she told swissinfo.

“I would even dare to say that our level of support is rising much faster in the French-speaking part of Switzerland because people now see that these are problems that have to be dealt with,” she added.

Fear factor

Panayides rejects the accusation that the party plays mainly on people’s fears by exaggerating the extent of abuse of the asylum system, for example, or insisting that closer relations with the EU would lead to job losses.

“If there is a problem – and there is – then it has to be discussed,” she said.

“It’s no good pretending certain problems don’t exist… they have to be talked about and solutions need to be found.”

Ladner says that in recent years the party has had the luxury of being both part of the government with just one cabinet seat, and being able to form an effective opposition.

Switzerland’s system of direct democracy means that the party has often been able to force nationwide votes on government decisions with which it disagrees, thanks to large grassroots support.

But Ladner believes those tactics could change, especially if the party does well in the election and pushes for a second cabinet seat.

“The People’s Party will probably have to move from an oppositional position to a more governmental one,” he said.

“That of course would mean that it would have to come up with answers to all the problems Switzerland faces and not just some of them.”

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton

Key facts

The latest opinion poll gives the Swiss People’s Party a 26% share of the vote ahead of the Social Democrats (22%), the Radicals (20%) and the Christian Democrats (15%).
During the 1990s, the People’s Party increased its share of the vote from 11% to 22.5%.
The party has 45 members in the House of Representatives and seven in the Senate.
Just three of its members in the House of Representatives were elected in French-speaking cantons.

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