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Samuel Schmid wins cabinet seat after parliamentary ballot

A victorious Samuel Schmid takes the oath of office after his victory

(Keystone)

The Swiss parliament on Wednesday elected Samuel Schmid of the right-wing Swiss People's Party to the cabinet post being vacated by the defence minister, Adolf Ogi. His victory, however, represents a snub for his party's leaders.

In the sixth and final round of balloting, Schmid secured the support of the majority of parliament with 121 votes. He was followed by two other members of the People's Party, Ulrich Siegrist (83 votes), and Rita Fuhrer (28 votes).

Schmid, a member of the Senate from canton Bern, is a moderate member of the party, and his election is seen as a slap in the face for the hardline leaders of the People's Party, particularly the populist figurehead, Christoph Blocher.

Schmid stood as an unofficial candidate in the election. The two official People's Party candidates, Roland Eberle and Fuhrer, found only limited support in the joint session of both houses of parliament.

The three other parties in government, the centre-left Social Democrats, and the centre-right Christian Democrats and Radicals, voted mainly for unofficial or alternative candidates as a sign of displeasure at the People's Party's hardline policies and its frequent "opposition" stance within the collective responsibility cabinet.

The Social Democrats had threatened to torpedo the 41-year-old "magic formula" system of government, under which they and the centre-right parties hold two seats each and the People's Party one seat in the seven-member cabinet. But the Social Democrats stopped short of trying to tip the People's Party out of government.

Immediately after the vote, there were signs of a potential conflict between Schmid - a member of the Bern-based liberal wing of the party - and the Zurich-based party hardliners grouped around Blocher.

In an interview after his victory, Schmid described himself as a figure of integration, and indicated he would abide by the collective decisions of the cabinet.

However, Blocher issued a renewed warning that Schmid would have to toe the party line. Blocher said Schmid could still rejoin the majority of the party, but if he went in another direction the party would oppose him.

Other members of the People's Party played down the importance of Schmid being elected in preference to the party's official candidates. The other three cabinet parties expressed satisfaction at the outcome.

Schmid told swissinfo he was surprised but very pleased with the election result. He also said he expected to take over the defence portfolio at the start of 2001 once his predecessor, Ogi, has retired.

In another vote on Wednesday, parliament confirmed the transport, energy and communications minister, Moritz Leuenberger, as next year's Swiss president. He received confirmation by 187 votes - which analysts describe as an excellent result for him.

The finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, was confirmed as deputy president for 2001 with 177 votes.

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