Swiss politics gains new vigour

Defining themselves is proving an uphill struggle for some parties Keystone

The start of 2004 has marked a new beginning in Swiss politics. For three of the four parties in government, redefining what they stand for has become the main priority.

This content was published on February 10, 2004 minutes

The success of the rightwing in October’s parliamentary elections has helped to reinvigorate political debate in the country.

The Social Democrats, Radicals and Christian Democrats have all issued statements, calling for clearer manifestos that better reflect their core values.

“This phenomenon is linked to the elections of October 19,” says Pascal Sciarini, political scientist at the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration.

“The advance of the Swiss People’s Party and the resulting changes in parliament and in government have led to greater politicisation at all levels, within the media, establishment and in the population as a whole.

“Politics is becoming more important.”

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According to Sciarini, “one can no longer just go on governing in the usual way. The media are giving more coverage to political affairs and the public are showing greater interest.”

Sciarini says that the success of the People’s Party showed the other parties the importance of having a clear political profile and setting defined goals.

But to make these a reality will require more than simply waving a magic wand.

“That would be too simple,” says Andreas Ladner, a professor at Bern University.

“The big question is what the party stands for and whether these positions can win voters.”


The situation of the Christian Democrats is a case in point.

“It’s obvious that religious affiliation has lost importance and that the party cannot hope to recreate itself on this basis,” says Ladner.

The situation of the Radicals is also difficult.

“You have to look at what is happening in the rest of Europe. A liberal party that has 20 per cent of the vote, as in Switzerland, is an exception. You could ask what future the Radicals have.”

For the moment, the Radicals and the Christian Democrats continue to struggle.

“The difficulty encountered in finding a new president for the Christian Democrats shows the lack of interest in the post,” says Sciarini.

Ladner adds: “It’s hard to find presidents because no one has a clue what to do with these parties and what role the president should play.”

While it is hard to say what the future holds, there could be a swing back to the centre-right. There is a way for this to happen, according to Sciarini.

“There is a gap that no-one else has filled, for a party which is liberal from an economic point of view and is also open to modernising society and to the outside world.”

swissinfo, Olivier Pauchard (translation: Faryal Mirza)

In brief

The October elections have led to parties taking a closer look at what they stand for.

The rise of the rightwing People's Party has come at the expense of the Christian Democrats and Radicals.

The two centre-right parties are now struggling to redefine themselves.

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