The Green Party of Switzerland is on course for its best result ever in an upcoming parliamentary election, capitalizing on fears about global warming that are mobilizing people across Europe.
The gains expected to be recorded by environmentalists are a knock-on effect of Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future climate protests, which resulted in demonstrations across Switzerland and last month helped the Austrian Green Party get voted back into parliament after a two-year hiatus.
Across Europe “we’re having a very intensive debate about climate change,” said Georg Lutz, professor of political science at the University of Lausanne.
“There are topics that are important to people and there are parties that are identified with them. Those parties get a fillip when the campaign zeros in on their issue,” Lutz said.
While the Swiss Green Party is likely to be the biggest gainer in percentage terms, the Swiss People’s Party is virtually sure to extend its tenure as the most popular party in the ballot tomorrow.
Because plebiscites, held several times a year, give voters a say on everything from corporate tax to immigration, the outcome of the parliamentary election is much less of a determinant for policy. No party wins in a US or British sense, and there is no coalition-building like in Germany.
Instead, Switzerland’s presidency is rotated annually among members of its seven-person executive. The newly formed parliament is to elect the body in several weeks’ time, typically in December, with membership determined based on proportionality, as well as strategic backroom deals.
The election is taking place against the backdrop of a slowdown in Swiss economic growth.
Relations with the EU, the country’s top destination for exports, are tense at times. Earlier this year, a disagreement between the two over a political treaty led to the Swiss disallowing the trading of shares in their companies within the bloc.
Yet survey data show that neither economic concerns nor immigration, which dominated the 2015 election, are at the forefront of voters’ minds today.
It is the environment, which climbed to the top of the agenda on the back of student protests, according to a report by pollster Sotomo for broadcaster SRG.
A study this week found that Switzerland’s glaciers lost more than 10 percent of their volume over the past five years, the fastest pace of decline in more than a century.
“In the course of the year the topic gained traction with other age groups,” as well, and in recent weeks “again gained in importance,” Sotomo said.
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