Switzerland’s right-wing populists look set to sweep Sunday’s (22 October) general elections following a campaign fuelled by anti-mass migration rhetoric and pledges to combat “woke madness”.
Polling stations are only open for a few hours on Sunday morning as the vast majority of Swiss voters post their ballots in the four weeks leading up to election day.
A first results projection, giving percentages only, is expected at around 4:00pm (1400 GMT).
The wealthy European country of 8.8 million people is voting for all 200 seats in the National Council lower house of parliament and all 46 in the Council of States upper chamber.
The Council of States, which represents the cantons that make up Switzerland, is dominated by the centre-right The Centre and the right-wing party called FDP.The Liberals.
Elections, by majority vote, rarely change the balance.
In the lower house, where proportional representation is used, the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) is on course to consolidate its position as the biggest political force.
Meanwhile the Greens are expected to cede ground back to the Social Democrats, according to the opinion polls.
The Swiss elections come as terror attacks return to Europe, first in France and then in Brussels.
Sean Muller, a professor at Lausanne University’s Institute of Political Studies, said that while most people will have already voted, he did not think the thus-far undecideds would have their vote swayed by recent events “because as a neutral country, we still consider ourselves safe from terrorism”, he told AFP.
SVP riding high
The SVP — which is strongly anti-EU — fiercely defends Switzerland’s long-standing military neutrality but feels this principle has been tested too far in recent months.
Switzerland is not in the European Union but has matched the EU’s economic sanctions on Russia following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
That said, the SVP’s election campaign has focused on its favourite theme: the fight against “mass immigration” and saying no to a Switzerland of 10 million people.
The Federal Commission Against Racism accused the SVP of running a “xenophobic” campaign on social media by spotlighting criminal cases perpetrated by foreigners.
It’s “New normal?” social media adverts plunged into a world of bloodied knives, hooded criminals, fists, bruised faces and frightened women.
It has also launched war on “woke madness”.
“Drag queens, antifas and climate activists are all going to vote! At the polls, they could ruin Switzerland and our society. We won’t let them!” the SVP youth wing said in a final push for votes.
Even though Switzerland remains one of the world’s richest countries, with unemployment running at around two percent and a very high GDP per capita, the SVP’s message continues to strike a chord.
The party has topped every National Council election since 1999, though its support has gone up and down.
“It’s true that four years ago, our vote went down,” SVP leader Marco Chiesa told AFP.
Although “we are still the first party, we want to get 100,000 voters back, to get closer to 30 percent” — something no Swiss party has ever achieved under the proportional representation system.
Climate and living costs
On the other side of the National Council’s hemicycle in the Federal Palace in Bern, the Greens and the Green Liberals are thought unlikely to hold their 2019 gains.
Though climate change remains a major issue in Switzerland — where Alpine glaciers are retreating at an exceptional rate — the environmentalist movement seems to have lost momentum during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The cost of living has also stolen the limelight from climate change, with inflation and surging health insurance costs hitting people’s pockets.
The Social Democrats hope to make gains on these issues, and are calling for reforms that would index health insurance contributions to income.
However, most voters will tend towards apathy — general election turnout is typically around 45%.
The 246 newly elected parliamentarians will choose the seven members of the government on 13 December.
The seats are shared out 2-2-2-1 among the four main parties. The Federal Council government is Switzerland’s collective head of state and its decisions are taken by consensus.
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