Tue, Oct 21, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Swiss nationalists' victory threatens to upset balance


Christoph Blocher of the Swiss People's Party answers question from journalists in Zurich, Switzerland on Sunday. Blocher's party, known for its anti-immigration views, emerged with the highest share of the vote in parliamentary elections.


The nationalist Swiss People's Party swept to victory in parliamentary elections on Sunday, after a heated campaign marked by accusations that the government was soft on crime and too lenient on immigrants.

People's Party officials immediately staked claim to a second seat in the seven-seat cabinet -- and threatened to pull out of the four-party ruling coalition that has controlled Swiss politics for 40 years if the other parties blocked their nominee.

Projections showed the People's Party gaining 11 seats in the National Council, the 200-seat lower house of parliament. That brings its total to 55, one more than the Social Democrats, the previous leader which received a projected 24.2 percent and gained three seats.

The other two coalition partners each lost seats. The centrist Radical Democrats dropped six seats to 37, and the right-of-center Christian Democrats fell nine seats to 26.

People's Party chief Ueli Maurer said his party would put forward its most outspoken member -- billionaire industrialist Christoph Blocher -- to join the four-party cabinet, called the Federal Council, when parliament decides its makeup Dec. 7.

Mauer threatened that his party would pull out of the coalition if Blocher is not elected.

A second seat on the council could strengthen the party's push for immigration curbs and a more isolationist stance on the world stage.

Other parties in the coalition, however, warned that a second seat for the People's Party would disrupt the so-called "magic formula" of consensus politics that has governed the country since 1959, and they bristled at the People Party's threat to pull out.

"The People's Party now is trying to dictate to the other parties," said Philipp Staehelin, president of the Christian Democrats.

"It's time for the party to be removed completely from the cabinet," Genner said Ruth Genner, co-president of the Greens, which picked up three seats but is not a member of the "magic formula" government.

Blocher is a charismatic billionaire industrialist who has long stood for populist low-tax, tough-on-immigration policies.

During elections in 1999, he was accused of having far-right sympathies after a Swiss newspaper published a letter by him that praised a book by a man subsequently jailed for denying the existence of the Nazi gas chambers.

Blocher later insisted he had not actually read the book and said that he rejected any form of historical revisionism.

Last week, the People's Party ran full-page advertisements in major Swiss newspapers. "Certain ethnic groups dominate the criminal statistics," read one ad. "Pampered criminals; Shameless asylum seekers; Brutal Albanian mafia," said another.

The ads elicited an unusual rebuke from the Geneva-based UN High Commissioner of Refugees, which said they were "some of the most nakedly anti-asylum advertisements by a major political party that we've seen in Europe to date."

Another advertisement claimed the other three parties were responsible for the demise of treasured Swiss values such as independence, direct democracy, security and banking secrecy.

Switzerland hosted many of the refugees from the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.

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