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Cracks emerge in Switzerland’s biggest party

People's Party president Ueli Maurer launching a new poster campaign ahead of voting on old-age pensions and a new tax package Keystone

A rift has opened within a branch of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, which could point to a power struggle within the national party.

Moderates within Switzerland’s biggest party are critical of the hard line taken by the leadership, which has used highly controversial advertising campaigns to shore up party support.

At an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday night, members of the party’s Basel City branch confirmed the cantonal party president, Angelika Zanolari, in her position following attempts by moderates to unseat her.

Now half the parliamentary branch are threatening to quit the party, or have already announced their decision to leave.

They are angered by what they see as the authoritarian leadership of the party.

The showdown is an embarrassment for Swiss People’s Party leader Ueli Maurer, whose job it is to try to unite the different wings of the party.

Political analyst Andreas Ladner described the Basel faction as typical of the party’s new branches, with the hardliners in control. But he said the cause of the upset was “much more about style than the political line of the party”.

Different views

Gregor Rutz, the party’s general secretary, played down the rift, saying it was not unusual to lose some members.

“It is quite normal within a large party where there is room for different opinions that someone says they don’t agree with something and will leave the party,” he told swissinfo.

“But as long as we have ten times more people joining than leaving, I think we are on the right path.”

Rutz denied that the party was breaking up into hardline and moderate factions now that de-facto leader Christoph Blocher had taken up a seat in government.

“[The style issue and Blocher’s absence] are two separate things. This debate was not about style but about political issues,” he said.

“I am glad that a majority in the Basel People’s Party believes that we must continue on our political path in a consistent and direct manner.”


But Jean-Philippe Jeannerat, a spokesman for the centre-left Social Democrats, said the People’s Party was becoming more and more isolated from the other three parties in government because of its hardline stance.

“If the People’s Party sticks to this aggressive line it will experience more and more tensions,” he warned.

The party’s hard-hitting advertising campaigns in the run-up to last October’s parliamentary election and ahead of votes next month have particularly angered the other parties.

Posters referring to foreigners as “negroes”, and images of rats eating away at people’s savings – aimed at the Left – were regarded as stretching the boundaries of taste and decency.

Twin roles

Andreas Ladner told swissinfo that one of the party’s main problems was to reconcile its traditional opposition role with its role as a party in government.

Following its success in last year’s elections – when it emerged the biggest party – the Swiss People’s Party now has two seats in the seven-member cabinet, one more than previously.

“The Swiss People’s Party has some problems to catch up with its new role within the government,” Ladner said.

“Time will tell which way the party is going. If Mr Blocher does a good job [in government] there is not much need for the party to be very oppositional,” he added.


The party was created in 1971 out of the merger of two political groups.
In 2003 it won the most votes in parliamentary elections and went on to claim a second seat in the cabinet.
The rightwing party claims to have 80,000 members.
It has 63 seats in the federal parliament.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR