SVP manoeuvres for second government seat

After weeks of manoeuvring and intrigue among the political parties, a joint assembly of the upper and lower houses of Swiss parliament will on Wednesday elect a new federal government.

SVP manoeuvres for second government seat
Federal government members at work. Photo:

Six incumbent members of the government, also known as the federal council, are expected to be re-elected and observers anticipate — barring a major upset — that a member of the right-wing nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) will be picked for the seventh spot.

This position was left vacant after Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, a member of the Conservative Democratic Party, decided not to seek a third term.

The SVP, which has only one seat in the seven-member government, has been clamouring for a second seat after winning the most seats (65) in the 200-seat lower house of parliament, where right-wing parties have a narrow overall majority following the recent elections.

However, the SVP only gained five seats in the 46-seat upper house (senate), where the Socialists (12 seats), the centrist Christians Democrats (13) and centre-right Liberals (13) are dominant.

Socialist leader Christian Levrat has argued that given the SVP’s poor showing in the senate elections it cannot expect to have two seats in the government.

But that appears to be a minority opinion.

The SVP has put forward three official candidates for government, one each from the country’s different linguistic regions.

Thomas Aeschi, an MP from the German-speaking canton of Zug, promotes his education from Harvard, where he obtained a Master in Public Administration from the John F Kennedy School of Government.

Guy Parmelin is an MP from the French-speaking canton of Vaud who is vice-president of the SVP’s parliamentary wing.

Norman Gobbi is an MP from the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, where he rose through the ranks in cantonal politics with the Ticino League party to become a cantonal cabinet minister.

None of the SVP candidates is well-known nationally and the other parties have expressed dissatisfaction over the choice, raising scenarios that another member of the party might be selected.

That would mark a repeat of what happened in 2007, when Widmer-Schlumpf, then a member of the SVP, was elected over incumbent SVP cabinet minister Christoph Blocher, who had alienated many politicians who felt he was not collegial enough to be a part of the government.

The SVP subsequently booted Widmer-Schlumpf out of the party and she joined the Conservative Democrats, a new party formed by disaffected SVP members.

But on Sunday SVP party president Toni Brunner warned other parties of the consequences if one of its three candidates is not elected.

Brunner said the party would promote its policies through the parliament and through referendum initiatives if it is denied a second seat.

Experts believe one of the three SVP candidates will be elected and that a repeat of the 2007 scenario is not on the cards.

“The SVP have learned their lesson and laid the groundwork in advance,” Pascal Sciarini, a political scientist at the University of Geneva, is quoted as saying in an online report from 20 Minutes newspaper.

“They have tried to lock up this election.”

But Sciarini acknowledged nothing is guaranteed until the last moment.

“We don’t know what is going on in the heads of 246 parliamentarians.”

Traditionally, the Swiss government consists of members of the major parties, according to their representation in parliament, who make decisions in a collegial manner and usually do not make their differences known in public.

Government members expected to be re-elected include: Socialists Simonetta Sommaruga (current president and justice and police minister) and Alain Berset (home affairs minister); SVP member Ueli Maurer (defence minister); Liberals Didier Burkhalter (foreign affairs minister) and Johann Schneider-Ammann (economic affairs minister); and Christian Democrat Doris Leuthard (environment, transport, energy and communications minister).

The Swiss president is elected each year to a one-year term in a “first among equals” position. 

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