Three years in parliament and not one word: meet Switzerland’s most silent politician
Anyone who thinks the Swiss parliament simply exists as a mechanism to rubber stamp proposals need only to listen to Barbara Keller-Inhelder, an MP with Switzerland’s Swiss People’s Party.
While politicians are generally regarded as loving the sound of their own voice, this politician from Rapperswil-Jona in the canton of St Gallen has not once taken the podium during the 450 hours of debate in the national council – the lower house of the Swiss parliament – during the current legislature.
Absence doesn’t explain Keller-Inhelder’s silence either: she has attended every session.
“It’s a conscious decision because speaking in parliament doesn’t do anything: the decisions have already been taken a long time before by commissions and in group meetings,” she told French-language national broadcaster RTS after the television channel revealed the finding.
“Every day at 8am we receive a program telling us what we have to vote and why. Pretty words in parliament are a theatrical show for the media,” said the SVP politician, adding she preferred to carry out bilateral discussions and was active behind the scenes.
On Twitter, the politician's words were greeted positively by some: "There's something to what Keller-Inhelder says. I was in the national parliament for visit. A female president was speaking and very few were listening. A lot of MPs were walking around talking to each other, others were reading the paper or typing on their laptop or were just not there," said one Twitter user.
Was Frau Keller-Inhelder sagt, hat was. Ich war mal im Bundeshaus zu Besuch. Gesprochen hat eine Bundesrätin, zugehört haben wenige. Viele NR liefen herum plauderten miteinander, andere lasen Zeitung oder tippten was in den Laptop und andere waren schlicht abwesend.— Alexander Müller?? (@DailyTalk) April 30, 2018
A man's world?
News of Keller-Inhelder’s silence in the parliament emerged after RTS carried out a study of the 450 hours of debate in the national council in the current legislature to look at gender imbalances in terms of total speaking time.
It found male MPs spoke for an average of 41 minutes per hour, while women spoke for 19: not surprising given women make up just 33 percent of councillors in the chamber.
The RTS study also found male MPs had spoken for an average of 138 minutes during the legislature against 132 for women.
The most vociferous female politician – in fourth place behind three of her male colleagues was Lisa Mazzone of the Greens. She has spoken for a total of 393 minutes (a jot over six and a half hours) during the legislature.
The top prize for oration, at least in terms of length at the podium, goes to Karl Voglerof the Christian Democratic People's Party of Switzerland (CVP/PDC). His total speaking time to date is 499 minutes, or over eight hours.