The nationalist Swiss People's Party received the highest vote ever recorded for an individual political party in Switzerland, after a bitter campaign blaming foreigners for much of the country's crime, according to official results released yesterday.
The Federal Statistics Office put the party on 29 percent after Sunday's national parliamentary elections. That topped the 1919 performance of 28 percent achieved by the pro-business Radical Democrats when Swiss elections were reorganized immediately after World War I.
The Social Democrats, the second-largest party, were the big losers, dropping to 19.5 percent from 23.3 percent.
The People's Party added seven seats to bring to 62 its total in the 200-seat National Council, the lower house of parliament, also edging out the Radical Democrats' 1919 record of 60, according to the statistics office.
The Green Party added six to its 2003 performance, bringing its total to the party's best showing of 20 seats, reflecting concerns for the environment on the left.
Although many saw the campaign as tainted by racism or xenophobia, the Swiss elected their first black parliament member on Sunday -- Ricardo Lumengo of the Social Democrats, an Angolan who arrived in Switzerland as an asylum seeker the 1980s and subsequently became a legal expert.
People's Party President Ueli Maurer and other party leaders pledged to continue working among the four major parties in the long-standing Swiss system of consensus politics that covers the wide range from Social Democrats on the left to People's Party on the right.
All four parties share in the governing Cabinet, without a prime minister and with the president only a figurehead.
In the campaign the People's Party called for a law to throw out entire immigrant families if a child violates Swiss laws -- the most recent variation of the party's anti-foreigner theme.
"I'm very happy," Maurer said. "We have reached the highest score ever since this electoral system began."
Maurer said the People's Party would now turn its attention to reducing crime, cutting taxes and keeping Switzerland out of the EU.
A Swiss bid for EU membership filed in the 1990s has been suspended by the Cabinet in recent years, and the People's Party wants the application withdrawn.
Under three decades of the leadership of 67-year-old Chistoph Blocher, whose family fortune from chemicals and plastics is an estimated 2 billion to 3 billion Swiss francs (US$1.7 billion to US$2.5 billion), the People's Party spread from the German-speaking heartland until it reached even into the more Europe-friendly areas in French-speaking Switzerland.
The party's gain will give it more leverage in the formation of the next government, but party leaders have pledged to keep the framework of four major parties that has governed Switzerland with consensus politics for decades.
The People's Party claims foreigners are responsible for much of the crime in the country. Party posters featuring white sheep kicking out a black sheep sparked outrage that was blamed in part for a riot two weeks before the election.
Switzerland's population of 7.5 million includes about 1.6 million foreigners, including many workers from southern Europe and refugees from the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Applicants for Swiss citizenship typically must wait years and clear administrative hurdles before they are granted Swiss passports.
The Social Democrats, who focused their campaign on rejecting the People's Party proposal, have 43 seats, a drop of nine.
Some voters expressed disquiet.
"I'm very disappointed that the Swiss people fell for such an election campaign by the People's Party," said Matthias Weller, a 30-year-old physician in Zurich. "People don't realize that their campaign is just made with money. They don't have a program, except for cutting government spending."
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