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Swiss turn to right at election as immigration fears weigh

Zurich, Switzerland

Switzerland looked set to shift to the right in national elections on Sunday, as concerns about immigration trumped fears about climate change and melting glaciers, though the vote is unlikely to change the make-up of the Swiss government. 

The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), Switzerland’s biggest political party, increased its share of the vote to 29 per cent, 3.4 percentage points higher than the last election in 2019, according to the final projection by Swiss broadcaster SRF.

General view of the snow-covered mountains of the Bernese Alps, Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau, as seen from Bern, Switzerland, on 28th October, 2020

General view of the snow-covered mountains of the Bernese Alps, Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau, as seen from Bern, Switzerland, on 28th October, 2020. PICTURE: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann

The party campaigned on a platform of preventing the country’s population – currently at 8.7 million people – exceeding 10 million.

“We have problems with immigration, illegal immigrants, and problems with the security of energy supply,” said SVP leader Marco Chiesa. “We already have asylum chaos…A population of 10 million people in Switzerland is a topic we really have to solve.”

The projected result means the SVP will increase its number of seats by eight to 61 in the 200-member lower house of parliament, increasing its presence in the chamber where no party has an overall majority.

Rising health costs also looked set to benefit the left-wing Social Democrats (SP). Switzerland’s second-biggest party was poised to increase its share by 0.7 percentage points of the vote to 17.4 per cent, increasing its representation by one to 40 seats.

In contrast, the Greens were expected to see their share of the votes fall by four percentage points to nine per cent, and lose six seats.

“The result means it will be more difficult for progressive issues or issues like the environment and sustainability,” said Cloe Jans from pollsters GFS Bern. “Politicians will feel less pressure from outside to push this agenda in the next four years after this result.”

The outcome is unlikely to change the make-up of Switzerland’s government, the Federal Council, where seven cabinet positions are divided among the top four parties, according to their share of the vote.

“The progressive zeitgeist of the four years ago has disappeared. After four years of crises, with coronavirus and Ukraine, people are more conservative than they were in 2019,” said Michael Hermann, a political analyst at pollsters Sotomo.

Still, he did not think the election would have a major impact on Swiss politics, with big issues like pensions still settled via referendums.


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