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Swiss rightwing pales alongside European extremes

Blocher has been described as Switzerland's answer to Le Pen or Haider Keystone

The success of the rightwing People's Party in Sunday's parliamentary elections has invited comparisons with far-right movements in Europe.

This content was published on October 22, 2003 - 07:38

But political scientists say the People's Party is a different animal.

The foreign press have likened the People's Party - which won the largest share of the popular vote on Sunday (26.6 per cent) – to movements led by France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen, Austria’s Jörg Haider, and the Netherlands’ Pim Fortuyn, who was murdered in May last year.

Papers described the party as “xenophobic, populist or nationalist” – terms they normally use for other rightwing European parties.

Italy’s “L’Unita” newspaper even called Christoph Blocher, the party’s flamboyant figurehead, “a Nazi billionaire".

Shocked

The success rightwing parties across Europe - even the far-right British National Party has gained political ground - has shocked the political establishment in many countries, and now it is Switzerland’s turn.

“The People’s Party’s success amounted to a revolution,” Pascal Sciarini of the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP) in Lausanne told swissinfo.

“I call it a small revolution, as no other party has ever made such a big jump before.”

Sciarini says there are similarities between the People’s Party and far-right movements in Europe “in their nationalist, isolationist, anti-European, anti-immigration and anti-asylum policies”.

“But one of the main differences is that Blocher and his entourage have never been attacked for being racist or anti-Semitic," says Sciarini.

“There have never been any verbal attacks comparable with those of Haider or Le Pen. The People’s Party is much more subtle.”.

Rhetoric

That’s a view shared by Oscar Mazzoleni, head of Ustat, a political research institute in Ticino.

As the author of a recently published study of the People’s Party, he says the Swiss party is heavy on rhetoric, but rather more conventional when it comes to politics.

“Both the People’s Party and the extreme European Right like to defame the traditional parties as no longer able to solve burning issues and see the population’s worries and needs,” he told swissinfo.

“But the People’s Party has been part of the Swiss government for many years and despite having become more radical, it has not had problems in functioning in our system of consensus.”

Whether the success of the People’s Party will change Swiss politics in the long term remains to be seen.

Hardline

The government is already moving towards the right on economic policy, and Sciarini feels the main difference in the short term will be a harder line on foreigners.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) attacked the party over its tough line on foreigners and asylum in the run-up to Sunday's elections.

“If Christoph Blocher or one of his hardline colleagues move into the cabinet, we can expect tougher policies in areas such as immigration, asylum and the opening towards the EU,” says Sciarini.

Blocher’s critics have expressed hopes that the party will become more moderate if it gets another seat in the cabinet.

But Sciarini is sceptical. “Having two cabinet ministers of the People’s Party in the government does not mean they are in the majority.

“I am sure the People’s Party will continue to use the tools of our direct democracy [by forcing votes on issues they disagree with] if they are not satisfied with the government’s policies,” he said.

swissinfo, Olivier Pauchard and Andrea Tognina (translation: Billi Bierling)

In brief

The Swiss People’s Party has demanded a second seat in the seven-seat cabinet.

Such a move would challenge the “Magic Formula” - a power-sharing arrangement that dates back to 1959 when the People's Party was the smallest of the four parties in government.

The party has put forward Christoph Blocher as a possible candidate.

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Key facts

The Swiss People's Party won 26.6% of the popular vote, and now has 55 seats in the House of Representatives.
Social Democrats: 23.3% with 52 seats.
Radicals: 17.3% with 36 seats.
Christian Democrats: 14.4% with 28 seats.
Greens (not in government): 7.4% with 13 seats.

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