Radicals offer a choice of two candidates
After a process resembling Switzerland’s own cabinet election, the centre-right Radical Party has chosen two very different candidates in the race to replace Kaspar Villiger.
Which one is elected could hinge on the rightwing Swiss People’s Party’s bid for a second seat.
Hans-Rudolf Merz and Christine Beerli are the two official Radical Party nominees.
They represent both wings of the party, according to political analyst Emanuel von Erlach, and should provide parliamentarians with enough choice when they vote on Villiger’s successor on December 10.
“Merz is more of a financial hardliner and is recognised as being more to the Right of the party,” von Erlach told swissinfo.
“Beerli is also known to acknowledge the importance of a strong state,” he added.
“The fact that the Radicals have put forward candidates from the two wings of the party should make it easier for one of them to be elected.”
Since 1959 an informal power sharing arrangement known as the “Magic Formula” has distributed seats among the four major parties in the same way.
Under the agreement the centre-left Social Democrats, the Radicals and the centre-right Christian Democrats each have two seats, the People’s Party one.
For the past 40 years, when ministers retire, parliament has made a straight swap – choosing a successor from the same party and normally one of the official candidates.
Kaspar Villiger, one of two Radicals in the government, will step down from office at the end of December, and in the normal run of things either Beerli or Merz should replace him.
As well as finding a replacement for Villiger, parliament will also be voting on whether to renew the mandate of each of the other six ministers.
Every four years, shortly after parliamentary elections, cabinet ministers wishing to remain in office stand for re-election.
After its gains in October’s elections, when it became the biggest party in parliament, the People’s Party nominated the controversial populist, Christoph Blocher, as its official candidate for a second seat alongside Samuel Schmid.
Which of the two Radicals is elected depends, to a certain extent, on whether Blocher’s bid to replace one of the Christian Democrats – Ruth Metzler and Joseph Deiss – is successful. It also depends on which one he manages to unseat.
But von Erlach says other factors will also come into play.
“If Blocher gets in at the expense of Ruth Metzler, it would only leave one woman in government and that would favour Beerli’s chances of being elected,” he said.
“But at the same time if Metzler goes there would only be two ministers from the purely German-speaking part of Switzerland, and that could improve Merz’s chances.”
Although the regional origins of cabinet ministers do not play as important a role as they once did in the composition of the government, von Erlach insists it will be a factor that parliamentarians take into account when they cast their votes.
Beerli comes from the same part of Switzerland as Schmid and Deiss, while Merz represents Appenzell Outer Rhodes in the east of the country.
If Deiss were unseated it would also have an influence on the chances of the two Radical candidates, as the political makeup of the cabinet would shift to the Right.
Parliament, says von Erlach, would probably want to maintain a balance and that would benefit Beerli.
“If Deiss were to lose there would be a weakening of the centre-left position in government,” he said.
“Beerli’s more moderate position on many issues could tip the scales her way in the end.”
The chance of a challenge to either of the official nominees from a “wild card” – someone chosen by parliament in preference to the official party candidates – is slim, according to von Erlach.
In what could be a landmark election, he says the parties are still jockeying for position.
“Nothing is impossible and you never know what the dynamics might be,” he said.
“But the parties are having enough trouble coordinating their strategies for the other votes to spend too much time choosing a wild card candidate.”
swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton
Christine Beerli, 50, was a member of the Senate for 12 years before standing down ahead of October’s elections
In 1993 she was one of the few Radicals to support the Social Democrat Christine Brunner’s unsuccessful bid for a government seat.
In 1996 she became the first woman to lead the Radical Party’s parliamentary group.
Hans-Rudolf Merz, 61, has been a member of the Senate since 1997.
He currently presides over the Senate finance commission and is also a member of Switzerland’s security and foreign policy commissions.
Merz says he agrees with the right-wing politician, Christoph Blocher, on a number of issues, but that he does not consider himself a hardliner when it comes to economic and social policies.
In October Kaspar Villiger, one of two Radical Party representatives in government, announced he would not be standing for re-election.
Merz and Beerli were chosen ahead of three other contenders to be the Radical Party’s official candidates in the race to replace Villiger.
In the struggle to hold on to their two seats, the Christian Democrats have proposed that the Radicals sacrifice their seat in favour of Blocher – but Blocher says he will not contest the seat.
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