Burkhalter gains solid backing as Swiss prez

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Malcolm Curtis - [email protected]
Burkhalter gains solid backing as Swiss prez
Photo: FDFA

Foreigna Affairs Minister Didier Burkhalter was handily elected Swiss president for the coming year on Wednesday by the federal assembly, a joint meeting of the upper and lower houses of parliament in Bern.


Burkhalter, 53, of the centre-right Liberal party, received 183 of 202 valid votes, one of the best scores in the past decade.

By comparison, outgoing president Ueli Maurer, of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, received the support of only 148 members of the assembly last year, while 105 voted against him.

Burkhalter’s election is no surprise, 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 the result gives the Neuchâtel native extra legitimacy that will help him use his office to advance causes that he supports, even though as president he remains one among equals in the cabinet.

Born in the village of Auvernier on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel, Burkhalter obtained a degree in economics from the University of Neuchâtel.

A Francophone, Burkhalter later took several courses in English in the UK and in German in Switzerland while becoming a teacher at the University of Neuchâtel in the early 1980s.

He joined the Radical Democratic Party (now the Liberals or FDP) and became secretary of the Neuchâtel branch of the party before assuming the same position nationally.

Burkhalter has served all three levels of the Swiss political system, starting as a municipal councillor in the village of Hauterive in Neuchâtel before becoming a cantonal MP, national MP and senator.

He was elected to the federal government in September 2009 and initially took the post of home affairs minister before switching to become foreign affairs minister last year, a position he will continue to hold as president.


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