SHARE
COPY LINK
LOW-KEY BURKHALTER

POLITICS

Swiss leader’s commute turns Twitter sensation

A photo showing Swiss President Didier Burkhalter waiting for a train at Neuchâtel station, alone and without bodyguards, made waves on Twitter on Thursday, receiving 800 retweets around the world.

Swiss leader's commute turns Twitter sensation
Didier Burkhalter's casual approach to travelling around Switzerland caused a stir on Twitter. Photo: David Mdzinarishvili/Pool/AFP

The photograph was taken by a journalist from newspaper Le Temps, Serge Jubin, and posted on Facebook with an accompanying comment that suggested an innate Swissness in Burkhalter’s ability to act like any other member of the public when out and about.

“Switzerland: marvellous country where the president of the Confederation can cheerfully tap away on his smartphone on the platform at Neuchâtel station amongst other train users…”

The photo and comment were subsequently posted on Twitter by RTS journalist Magali Philip (@magaliphilip) and then retweeted with an English comment by Zurich resident Ralph Straumann (@rastrau).

It is this English tweet that is making its way around the world, with around 800 retweets and 300 favourites by accounts from as far afield as India, Brazil and Bhutan.

Reaction to the photo has ranged from surprise to cynicism, with many feeling Switzerland’s neutrality and direct system of governance allows its president such freedom.

Nicolas Bideau, Ambassador for Swiss promotional body House of Switzerland, also retweeted the photo.

Speaking to The Local, Bideau said the photo illustrated the close relationship between the president and the people in Switzerland.

“Our country is well-known as a direct democracy. The government is able to show that it is close to the people and the people respect that [by] not annoying a member of the government in the train.”

Despite Switzerland’s reputation for isolationism, the photo shows what an open society the country has, he added.

“Sometimes people think we are a bit selfish, an island,” he told The Local. “But I think [the photo] shows the openness we have towards the people generally.”

“It also shows that Switzerland is a safe country,” he added.

Around the world, many tweeters seemed to envy such freedom for their politicians.

“Can we dream it?” tweeted Indian twitter user @mkdburman.

While Brazilian @JamilChade tweeted: “The Swiss president takes the train without security or assistant. A challenge for Brazilian politicians?”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

POLITICS

Swiss finance minister makes surprise decision to quit

Swiss Finance Minister Ueli Maurer, 71, announced he would resign at the end of the year in a surprise move on Friday after more than four decades in politics.

Swiss finance minister makes surprise decision to quit

He is the longest serving member of the Federal Council — Switzerland’s seven-member government — having been a member since January 2009. He has held the finance brief since January 2016 after seven years as the defence minister.

“I have been in politics for more than 40 years, 14 of them in the Federal Council. It is a fascinating task,” Maurer told a hastily arranged press conference.

However, “during the last year, I thought that I still have a lot of energy to do something else”, he said, announcing his resignation.

“I already have plans,” the Zurich father-of-six said, without revealing his intentions, adding that he was leaving “with one eye smiling and one eye crying”.

Maurer served twice as Switzerland’s president — which rotates annually among Federal Council members — in 2013 and 2019.

He chaired the Swiss People’s Party from 1996 to 2008. The right-wing, populist SVP has been Switzerland’s biggest party since 2003.

“Without Ueli Maurer, the SVP would never have become the country’s leading political force,” Le Temps newspaper said.

The Tages-Anzeiger daily said he was “one of the most versatile Swiss politicians of recent decades, unpredictable and agile”.

The election of his successor on the Federal Council is expected to take place on December 7. Ministers are elected by parliament.

The major parties share out the seven seats according to a so-called “magic formula” which has evolved over time.

The SVP, the centre-left Socialist Party and the centre-right Liberals have two ministers each, with the centre-right Centre party allocated one.

The left-wing Green Party hopes to secure a first-ever seat with a strong performance in the 2023 parliamentary elections.

SHOW COMMENTS