Social Democrat president under pressure

A crisis in Switzerland's Social Democratic Party has deepened, with calls for the party president, Ursula Koch, to step down.

This content was published on February 22, 2000 - 12:04

A crisis in Switzerland's Social Democratic Party has deepened, with calls for the party president, Ursula Koch, to step down. Both the party vice-president, Pierre Aeby, and another member of the executive, Jacqueline Fehr, called for Koch's resignation.

In a separate development, Aeby confirmed he intends to step down as vice-president after his failure to be re-elected to the Senate at the last general election.

Fehr said Koch had failed to fulfil promises made during her campaign for election as party president in 1997. She also accused the party president of presenting herself in public as a lone fighter, and of wanting too much personal control. Fehr criticised Koch's tendency to dismiss people in the party who have different ideas to hers.

Koch has rejected the accusations, saying there is nothing new in them.

"What angers me," she said, "is that the disputes are hampering the political debate and are preventing me from doing my work."

The deepening crisis follows a weekend meeting of the party management which issued an ultimatum to Koch and her secretary-general, Jean-Francois Steiert. Executives threatened not to renominate one of them at a party conference in October unless they start working as a team.

The conflict has been simmering for some time but has died down over the past few months following the party's surprisingly strong showing in last October's general elections. It managed to maintain its share of the vote, even though Koch was already under attack as president at the time.

The Social Democrats have for a long time been the first or second strongest party in parliament, and have two of the seven cabinet seats. Political analysts say the conflict appears to be more than a clash of personalities and reflects the Social Democrats' identity problem. The party, which once appealed to working class voters, has become increasingly middle class.

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