Switzerland votes for stability and continuity

Parliamentarians on Wednesday re-elected all incumbent cabinet ministers, reaffirming their commitment to a power-sharing arrangement that has helped guarantee Switzerland’s political stability for the past 40 years.

This content was published on December 15, 1999 minutes

Parliamentarians on Wednesday re-elected all incumbent cabinet ministers (picture), reaffirming their commitment to a power-sharing arrangement that has helped guarantee Switzerland’s political stability for the past 40 years.

The seven cabinet ministers were confirmed in a series of secret ballots that defeated the challenge from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party for a second cabinet seat and guaranteed the survival of the “magic formula,” the unwritten traditional power-sharing agreement.

The public challenge from the right had caused weeks of intense public discussions and raised the question of whether the People’s Party should leave the cabinet and become a powerful opposition force.

But parliamentarians came out strongly against the highly popular – but also very controversial – figurehead of the People’s Party, millionaire businessman Christoph Blocher, who challenged the Social Democrats for a seat in the cabinet.

Blocher conceded that he “felt bitter about his defeat.” But he vowed his party would continue to fight for the policies which he said had proved so popular with Swiss voters in the October elections, when the party scored the most gains and jumped to second position in the House of Representatives.

Prominent party member Walter Frey said the policy priorities would be: Maintaining Swiss neutrality and sovereignty, strict asylum regulations and pro-business policies.

The Social Democrats said the People's Party’s defeat in parliament was a clear signal that the social welfare policies promoted so vigorously by Social Democrat Interior Minister Ruth Dreifuss must be continued.

Social Democrat spokesman Franco Cavalli said Blocher’s rejection marked a “clear defeat” for the People’s Party’s policies, which the left has criticised repeatedly as nationalist and anti-social.

The other parties represented in the cabinet, the Radicals and the Christian Democrats, also criticised Blocher's statement to take his issues to the Swiss people more often.

He was referring to the Swiss system of direct democracy in which voters decide practically all major issues in referendums.

The two parties lashed out at Blocher's "cheap populist policy statements" and said he and his party should accept government responsibility, since the party has a seat in the cabinet.

Switzerland’s magic formula, which has been an unwritten law since 1959, allocates the Radical Party, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats two seats each in the cabinet, while the People’s Party gets one minister. The distribution of power guarantees that the biggest parties in parliament are also represented on the executive body and can govern with the support of parliament.

Parliament on Wednesday also elected Annemarie Huber-Hotz, a member of the Radical Party, as Federal Chancellor. In that role, she will attend the weekly cabinet meetings and serve as advisor on certain issues.

Defence Minister Adolf Ogi, the longest-serving cabinet member, was elected president, a largely ceremonial post held for one year.

From staff and wire reports.

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