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Metzler and Deiss struggle to keep seats

If the People's Party has its way Metzler and Deiss will not be together for long Keystone

The two Christian Democrat ministers in government, Ruth Metzler and Joseph Deiss, face a fight for their political futures in December’s cabinet elections.

They are both being challenged for their seats by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party’s Christoph Blocher.

Every four years, shortly after the parliamentary elections, cabinet ministers need to have their mandate renewed by parliament.

They normally have little trouble being re-elected, but after its gains in October’s parliamentary elections, the People’s Party has renewed its calls for a second seat in government – at the expense of the Christian Democrats.

Political analyst Hans Hirter says it is hard to predict which of the two Christian Democrats is most at risk.

He believes negotiations between the four main political parties in the run-up to the vote, and the order in which ministers are re-elected on the day will play a significant role in determining the outcome.


“Metzler will be the first of the Christian Democrats up for re-election, and if there hasn’t been a formal arrangement between the parties, she could well lose out in the vote to Blocher,” he told swissinfo.

“But if Metzler wins, the attention will focus on Deiss – the next up for re-election – and he could well stand down just before the vote unless he is confident that he can see off the challenge.”

The order in which cabinet ministers stand for re-election depends on the length of time they have spent in office.

Although both Christian Democrats entered government on the same day back in 1999, Metzler was chosen just ahead of Deiss.


At 39, Metzler is the youngest minister in government. She is also the most inexperienced and was a political novice at a national level when she took office.

She moved straight from being the director of finances for the tiny eastern Swiss canton of Appenzell Inner Rhodes to the post of justice minister in 1999. Her lack of experience has at times hindered her, according to Hirter.

“She is a relative newcomer to national politics and if you take this into account, she doesn’t do her job badly,” he said.

“But she’s very dependent on her own administration and has made quite a few mistakes by not knowing how parliament works and how it wants to be treated.”


Metzler has also been criticised for being too far to the Right.

Critics have accused her of pandering to the demands of the People’s Party in her apparent willingness to harden Switzerland’s policy on asylum seekers.

But Hirter says she has also shown herself willing to try to find solutions and has spoken out in favour of making it easier for second and third generation foreigners to be granted Swiss citizenship, as well as equal rights for homosexual couples.

One argument in favour of Metzler’s re-election is the fact that she is a woman. The number of women in government has become an important issue in determining the composition of the cabinet in recent years.

If she were deselected, it would leave the Social Democrat, Micheline Calmy-Rey, as the only woman in government. Metzler is also due to take over Switzerland’s rotating presidency next year, becoming only the second woman in history to hold the office.

Political elite

If Metzler survives the vote on December 10, the attention will focus on her fellow Christian Democrat, Joseph Deiss.

The 57-year-old from the bilingual canton of Fribourg has a wealth of experience, having held political office at every level, and his reputation for seeking consensus could draw support from many parliamentarians, according to Hirter.

“He’s not a newcomer like Metzler or an outsider like Blocher,” he said.

“He knows how to make compromises and form coalitions and is part of the political elite,” he added.

Counting against Deiss is the perception that he lacks charisma.

At the beginning of this year Deiss switched from the foreign ministry to the economics ministry – a move many interpreted as an attempt to take himself out of the firing line of the People’s Party’s bid for a second cabinet seat.

The post is not without its dangers for the former professor of economics, especially in the light of Switzerland’s rising unemployment and stagnating economy.

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton

Both Ruth Metzler and Joseph Deiss were elected to the cabinet on March 11, 1999.

The Christian Democrats’ poor showing in October’s elections – they won just 14.4% of the vote – makes them vulnerable to losing a cabinet seat to the People’s Party.

Cabinet seats have been divided among Switzerland’s four main parties since 1959, with the Christian Democrats having two seats and the People’s Party one.

The People’s Party won the largest share of the vote in October’s elections and is now demanding a second cabinet seat – at the expense of the Christian Democrats.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR