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Suspense builds over cabinet elections

Six of the seven cabinet ministers and the new chancellor could be sworn in


The Swiss are awaiting the next move in a tense game of political poker after rightwing Justice Minister Christoph Blocher lost his seat in cabinet.

On Wednesday parliament showed its dissatisfaction with the controversial Blocher when it failed to re-elect him, voting instead for his People's Party colleague Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf. Widmer-Schlumpf will announce on Thursday whether she has decided to accept her nomination.

The joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate had been expected to confirm all seven members of the cabinet for the next four-year term.

It follows parliamentary elections in October when the People's Party won a record 29 per cent of the vote - ahead of the three other parties in government.

Six ministers were elected without incident but the house was split over Blocher. The rightwing minister secured 111 votes, with 116 parliamentarians voting for wildcard candidate Widmer-Schlumpf. The majority was 120.

In a second round Widmer-Schlumpf garnered 125 votes out a possible 242, defeating the justice minister. The canton Graubünden finance head will respond to her nomination on Thursday.

Reacting to the turn of events, People's Party President Ueli Maurer said if Widmer-Schlumpf accepted the nomination, the party would have two members in the cabinet, but not ones that followed the official line. In this case the party would go into opposition.

If, under pressure from the party, Widmer-Schlumpf refused the cabinet post, Blocher would stand again. "There is no other candidate," Maurer said.

Tense run-up

In the run-up to the cabinet election the focus was on attempts to unseat billionaire businessman Blocher.

Centre-right and centre-left parties regarded Blocher's combative manner as a threat to the tradition of consensus in the government.

On the eve of the election, the Christian Democrats declared that most of their members would vote against him.

The Green Party, which is not represented in the cabinet, initially put forward a candidate to stand against Blocher. It withdrew its nomination when Widmer-Schlumpf emerged as an alternative to Blocher.

In another move on Wednesday, both chambers of parliament elected Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin to serve as president next year.

The assembly also appointed Corina Casanova as new Federal Chancellor.

The chancellor coordinates the work of the cabinet and is considered the highest-ranking public official in Switzerland.


Key facts

The seven cabinet posts are currently divided up between the four largest political parties as follows:
Swiss People's Party 2
Radicals 2
Social Democrats 2
Christian Democrats 1

Ministers re-elected:
Samuel Schmid (People's Party) 201 votes
Pascal Couchepin (Radicals) 205 votes
Hans-Rudolf Merz (Radicals) 213 votes
Moritz Leuenberger (Social Democrats) 157 votes
Micheline Calmy-Rey (Social Democrats) 153 votes
Doris Leuthard (Christian Democrats) 160 votes

New candidate Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf (People's Party) 125 votes

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Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf

Aged 51, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf has been a member of canton Graubünden's government since 1998, the first woman to hold office.

A lawyer by profession, she is head of the cantonal finance department.

She is also president of the cantonal finance ministers' conference.

Her father, Leon Schlumpf, was a cabinet minister for the People's Party between 1979 and 1987.

end of infobox

Consensus politics

The term "consensus politics" describes the ongoing effort to achieve a balanced compromise among political parties and among the different cultural, linguistic and social communities that make up Switzerland.

One of the most obvious aspects of the Swiss power-sharing system is the way in which the distribution of cabinet seats reflects the relative strengths of the political parties, a practice first adopted in 1959.

end of infobox


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