Right-wing Maurer elected Swiss president
Swiss People’s Party (SVP) cabinet minister Ueli Maurer was elected Swiss president for the coming year in a vote on Wednesday by the federal assembly, a joint meeting of the upper and lower houses of parliament.
Maurer, from Zurich, received support from 148 members of the assembly, while 105 voted against him, reflecting the less than enthusiastic overall support for the right-winger.
His election was expected, given that under the consensual Swiss system of government the presidency changes every year and this year was his turn to be chosen from the seven-member cabinet.
But political observers often look at the margin of the vote for a president to see what legitimacy the candidate has and whether the person elected will be able to effectively use the position as a bully pulpit to advance personal causes.
The Swiss president remains just one among equals in the cabinet, or Federal Council, but can sometimes use his or her influence to guide policy.
The press in French-speaking Switzerland focused on the fact that Maurer, despite what Le Temps called a “mediocre score”, received substantially more support than Geneva Socialist Micheline Calmy-Ray, who was elected to her last term as president in 2010 after receiving just 106 votes.
Yet the SVP, famous for taking positions against immigration and foreigners, invariably manages to alienate all the other main political parties, even though it has the most seats in parliament.
Maurer, who is also minister of defence, civil protection and sports, is currently the only SVP member of the cabinet and some wags have suggested he will be the “president of the opposition”.
The son of a poor farmer, he trained as an accountant and served as director of the Zurich Farmers’ Association from 1994 to 2008.
Maurer is a former major in the Swiss army who commanded a bicycle infantry battalion.
After stints in municipal and cantonal government in Zurich, he became president of the SVP, where he worked with Christoph Blocher to double the party’s support.
He was first elected to the federal cabinet in 2009.
Before being elected, he promised to be a president focused on domestic polices rather than issues outside Switzerland’s borders, leaving those to Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Burkhalter.
“Maurer had a good score given the attacks (against him),” Toni Brunner, SVP president told Swiss media.
“He will be a president close to people, who does not play at being a jet setter of diplomacy by flying constantly abroad,” Brunner said.
“It’s a welcome return to the presidency of a modest government, hard-working and in direct touch with the concerns of the people.”
Manuel Tornare, a Geneva Socialist MP who was opposed to Maurer’s election, said it was now time for him to act like a president, Le Matin reported on its website.
Burkhalter, a member of the centre-right Liberal party from Neuchâtel, was elected vice-president with strong support from 205 members.