• Switzerland's news in English
Swiss federal elections
Populist right seen boosting number of MPs
Electoral posters of Alois Huber, Swiss People's Party candidate for MP, are seen on haystacks in the village of Kuettingen in the canton of Aargau. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Populist right seen boosting number of MPs

Nina Larson/AFP · 14 Oct 2015, 17:22

Published: 14 Oct 2015 17:22 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The surging numbers of migrants and refugees moving through Europe have heightened the focus on the issue in Switzerland, even though the wealthy Alpine nation has yet to be significantly affected by the crisis.

The last poll from the gfs.bern polling institute showed that 48 percent of those questioned thought migration was the most important issue facing the country.

Power-sharing and consensus rule are the norm in Switzerland and elections rarely lead to major shifts in parliament or the makeup of the government, which does not directly reflect the power balance in the house.

But the latest polls suggest the scale is tilting from the centre-left towards a centre-right majority in parliament, which has 200 seats in its lower chamber and 46 in the upper chamber.

"That could clearly impact future decisions," Andreas Ladner, a political scientist at Lausanne University, told AFP, suggesting a centre-right tilt in parliament could lead to "stricter immigration policies."

About a quarter of Switzerland's eight million inhabitants are foreign nationals, and immigration and asylum policies tend to figure among voters' top concerns.

Pollster gfs.bern said the country had not seen a campaign so dominated by a single issue for decades, with only nine percent choosing the runner-up issue — Switzerland's relationship with the neighbouring European Union — as the most important.

Ties with the EU were badly hit by a narrow Swiss popular vote in February 2014 in favour of restricting immigration from the bloc.

Migration crisis boosts right

Switzerland's largest party, the populist rightwing anti-immigration Swiss People's Party (SVP), appears to be benefiting from the increased focus on its pet issue, mainly at the expense of the Greens and other smaller parties.

The latest poll handed SVP nearly 28 percent support — up from the 26.6 percent it managed in the 2011 election and close to the record high 28.9 percent it won in 2007.

"SVP is clearly benefiting from the European crisis," Ladner said.

Pascal Sciarini, a political scientist at Geneva University, however noted a heightened feeling of solidarity towards the migrants moving through Europe, which "may not benefit SVP".

He suggested the party, which in 2007 sparked outcry with posters of three white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag, had toned down some of its anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The SVP, which championed the vote to restrict immigration from the EU, has demanded a new referendum aimed at tightening Switzerland's already strict asylum laws.

The centre-right Liberal Party, Switzerland's third largest party, holds a very different view.

The party, which has also seen a significant hike in support in the latest polls to 16.7 percent and which could help push the overall balance of parliament rightwards, stresses instead the need for more immigration to keep Switzerland's economy strong.

Lack of qualified labour

Story continues below…

"There is no migration problem . . . the main problem facing Switzerland today is economic," Liberal parliamentarian Fathi Derder told AFP, warning the country, where unemployment stands at just over three percent, "is facing "a dire lack of qualified labour."

The Socialists, Switzerland's second largest party, which in the last poll inched up slightly from the 18.7 percent of the vote they won in 2011, also want to broaden the debate to include cleaning up the Swiss banking sector and improving ties with the EU.

Socialist vice-president Roger Nordmann warned a shift to the right in parliament could have dire consequences, especially if it hands more influence to SVP, who he accused of "playing to xenophobia".

And politicians may have a hard time convincing voters that Sunday's vote is important — with major shifts in power a rarity, Switzerland's parliamentary elections generally fail to inspire much enthusiasm and turnout has not passed 50 percent since 1975.

Moreover the Swiss can have a more direct impact in referendums held every three months on different issues as part of the country's direct democratic system.

But experts insist the stakes are high this time.

In December the new parliament will elect Switzerland's Federal Council, or government, with the seven posts traditionally shared among the major parties from right to left under a tacit decades-old agreement dubbed "the magic formula".

Despite being the largest party, SVP currently holds just one government post, but has its sights set on securing a second seat.

"One out of seven seats may not seem important, but it is in fact, since that will determine the balance of power," Sciarini said. 

For more news from Switzerland, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Nina Larson/AFP (news@thelocal.ch)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Montreux throws hat in Olympic rings
Could Montreux host the 2026 Games? Photo: Ivo Scholz/Swiss Tourism

Montreux is to put itself forward as the host city for the 2026 winter Olympics as part of a potential bid by the cantons of Valais and Vaud.

Geneva car share scheme could help reduce city traffic
Catch a Car is aimed at short hops within a city. Photo: Catch a Car

Catch a Car, already in Basel, launches in Geneva next month.

Swiss women will ‘work for free’ for the rest of year
Female employees in Switzerland earn 19.3 percent less than their male colleagues. File photo: Randy Kashka

Switzerland's gender pay gap means from today, Friday October 21st, women in the country will effectively be working for free for the rest of 2016.

Swiss luxury watches stolen in Paris raid
Police outside the Girard-Perregaux watch store on Thursday. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

The 10 Girard-Perregaux watches are worth half a million euros in total.

Brother-in-law arrested over murder of Swiss teacher
The victim worked in a school in Stabio, near the town of Mendrisio. Photo: Oliver Graf

The primary school teacher was found dead in Ticino earlier this week.

Inside Switzerland’s largest nuclear bunker – 40 years on
Designed to house 20,000 people, the bunker was built in and over two motorway tunnels. Photo: Unterirdisch Ueberleben

The Local takes a tour of the Sonnenberg bunker in Lucerne, opened 40 years ago at the height of the Cold War.

Ten Swiss ski resorts named most expensive in Europe
File photo: Renato Bagattini/Swiss Tourism

Skiers in Switzerland pay the highest prices for their ski passes of anywhere in Europe, according to research.

Eco group fights Bern over wind farm plans
There are currently more than 30 wind farms in Switzerland. Photo: Alpiq

Wind turbines are “gigantic and destructive” machines, says Paysage Libre Suisse.

Vegan wins battle to be accepted by Swiss army
Antoni Da Campo will now carry out his military service. Photo: Antoni Da Campo

A Swiss man who was told he would not be accepted for military service because of his strict veganism has finally succeeded in making the army change its mind.

Geneva terror suspects to receive compensation
File photo: Emran Kassim

The Swiss public prosecutor has dropped the case against them.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
Photo: file
Some deodorants could cause breast cancer: Swiss study
Photo: Royal Savoy
In pictures: Inside the latest Swiss luxury hotel
Photo: AFP
Geneva airport bomb hoaxer faces 90,000-franc bill
Photo: Schaffhausen police
Mother leaves toddler son alone in car to go clubbing
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Swiss populist attacked by knife-wielding pensioner
Photo: File
Bern argues over passports for 3rd generation foreigners
Photo: Broad Bean Media
Muslim pupils must shake hands – ‘no ifs and buts’
jobs available