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SVP election result a 'triumph' for Blocher

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SVP election result a 'triumph' for Blocher
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
19:15 CEST+02:00
The record performance by Switzerland's rightwing populist SVP in Sunday's elections marks a new triumph for its charismatic leader Christoph Blocher, a maverick politician known for his blustering speeches and virulent campaigns against immigration and closer ties with the EU.

The multi-billionaire art lover has become the SVP's godfather in recent years, remaining largely aloof from day-to-day party business in favour of defining the party line.
   
At 75, he is officially the vice president of the Swiss People's Party (SVP).
   
He did not run in the October 18th elections.

But he was heavily involved in the campaign, tirelessly criss-crossing the country to rally the crowds.
   
The SVP won 65 of the 200 seats in the lower house, up from 54 previously, and saw its support rise to its highest-ever level.

The party's gains were expected to tip the scale in parliament from the centre-left towards a centre-right majority.
   
But, true to his nonconformist image, Blocher afterwards avoided joining the politicians lining up to appear before television cameras.
   
The son of a Protestant preacher and the seventh of 11 children, he is widely credited with bankrolling the SVP and transforming it from a rural group into a powerful political machine anchored to the hard right, and today, Switzerland's largest party.
   
Until the 1990s, the SVP was the smallest of Switzerland's four leading parties, with just around ten percent of the vote, but since then it has soared to first place.

 'Fake refugees'

Blocher has helped cement SVP's brand of populist nationalism focused heavily on purported threats from immigrants, in a country where a quarter of the population are foreign nationals.
   
Europe's current migrant crisis has given the party an additional boost, as it warns that the so far modest numbers of migrants and refugees arriving in Switzerland are set to balloon.
   
"Our country is in a better situation than its neighbours, in terms of the economy, freedoms and quality of life, but our prosperity is always threatened by the desire of other parties to make us enter the European Union," he said during the election campaign.
   
"The free movement of people, the chaos of asylum are also at the heart of my concerns."
   
An opponent of the Schengen accords, which permit citizens of 26 European states to travel without passport formalities and to which Switzerland is a signatory, he said recently that "we must set up border controls; it is not a question of closing the border but controlling the border."
   
But he has also publicly softened some of his views recently.
   
"For people whose physical wellbeing or lives are threatened there will always be a place in Switzerland," he said at a meeting in Lausanne, referring to the wave of refugees arriving in Europe, but not for "fake refugees" who are motivated by economic reasons.
   
Pascal Sciarini, a political science professor at the University of Geneva, said the SVP "is seen as the party which is most concerned about (immigration), and they don't even need to campaign because this migrant crisis is itself a campaign.

   
"The SVP has been quite clever in moderating its line a little bit, so as not to be too aggressive, because there is some solidarity with the migrants . . . but in anticipation of a change, they vote for the (SVP) to protect themselves against the risk of an invasion of migrants."

   
After Blocher 

In another success for Blocher, one of his three daughters, Magdalena Martullo-Blocher, was elected to parliament for the first time from a district where she had been forecast to lose for refusing to live there and quit as head of the family's chemicals business in the town of Ems, where she took over from her father.
   
"She brings business experience that a lot of lawmakers don't have," SVP president Toni Brunner said on Sunday night.
   
"I could well imagine Magdalena Martullo-Blocher on the Federal Council", Switzerland's seven-member governing executive, said Brunner.
   
However, he believes "it is definitely too early for her," as "she has just arrived" in the lower house of parliament.
   
It seems then that Blocher must still wait for family honour to be avenged.
   
When he was finally elected to join the Federal Council in 2003, Blocher was accused of not fitting into the Swiss government system, where ministers are drawn from all the major parties and are meant to seek consensus and stability.
   
And in 2007, the Swiss parliament, which picks the government ministers, did not reelect him.
   
A 50-year-old journalist, Roger Koeppel, editor-in-chief of the weekly Weltwoche, is now viewed as the party's heir-apparent.
   
He was elected for the first time on Sunday with 178,000 votes in Zurich, the largest votes of any lawmaker on Sunday.
   
"It is the end of the Blocher generation in Zurich," said Tages Anzeiger on Monday.

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