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People’s Party backs ultimatum action

Party President Brunner had tough words for the government and Widmer-Schlumpf Keystone

Delegates of the rightwing Swiss People's Party have supported a move to try to oust the justice minister and party member Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.

At a meeting in Lungern in central Switzerland, they gave a round of applause to a vote on Friday by the party’s central committee approving an ultimatum for her to step down.

There was no debate on the ultimatum at Saturday’s meeting. Neither Widmer-Schlumpf nor Defence Minister Samuel Schmid, also under pressure from the party, attended.

The committee came out in favour of the four-point ultimatum to Widmer-Schlumpf and the Graubünden section of the People’s Party by 67 votes to five.

Widmer-Schlumpf, who has the backing of Switzerland’s six other cabinet ministers, has said she intends to stay in office and will not be “intimidated”.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said on Thursday that the government supported the justice minister. She criticised the People’s Party’s behaviour as “unacceptable”, noting that Widmer-Schlumpf had been democratically elected by parliament.

The issue arose after parliament ousted the controversial People’s Party representative Christoph Blocher in December’s cabinet elections, replacing him with the more moderate Widmer-Schlumpf from canton Graubünden.

Little opposition

A member of the party’s Graubünden section, Brigitta Gadient, said on the sidelines of the meeting that she was shocked there had been so little opposition from within the ranks of the central committee.

If Widmer-Schlumpf does not step down by next Friday’s deadline, the party leadership says it will instruct the branch in her home canton to expel her. If it does not follow orders, the leadership has threatened to exclude the branch from the party and set up a new Graubünden section.

While the controversy continues, the new president of the People’s Party, Toni Brunner, criticised both the government and the justice minister.

He said the government no longer had a clear course and was neglecting reforms.

“Confiscation of power”

Brunner described December’s election as the “confiscation of power by the centre left”.

“Switzerland has not been the same since December 12, with the alliance of losing parties [in the national parliamentary elections] excluding the winner and Switzerland’s largest party,” he said.

Brunner accused Widmer-Schlumpf of carrying out a purge of staff in her department since she took office out of “vengeance and grudge”.

He was alluding to party members who had been close to her predecessor.

Saturday’s meeting also saw tribute paid to both Blocher and three former party officials, who were presented with four sheep – three white and one black.

The gesture was an obvious reminder of the controversial People’s Party poster campaign depicting white sheep kicking a black sheep off a Swiss flag that drew worldwide media attention and criticism from the United Nations.

swissinfo with agencies

The four main political parties have been represented in the seven-member Swiss government for nearly 50 years.

The party-political make up remained unchanged between 1959 and 2003, when Christoph Blocher won a second seat for his party at the expense of the centre-right Christian Democrats.

The four main parties have an 80% majority in parliament, while the Greens are the largest opposition party with around 10%.

Over the past 15 years the People’s Party has gradually increased its share of the vote to 29% in October’s parliamentary elections.

Christoph Blocher was only the fourth cabinet minister in Swiss history to fail to win re-election.

Usually it’s up to a cabinet minister to choose the moment to step down. Ministers are elected for a four-year term by parliament.

Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf became the third woman in the cabinet, joining Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey and Economics Minister Doris Leuthard.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR