Friday, March 1

Switzerland’s Right-Wing Party Surges on Immigration Concerns

Switzerland’s right-wing People’s Party scored one of its best results ever in national elections, reaping the rewards of a campaign that leveraged concerns over immigration.

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(Bloomberg) — Switzerland’s right-wing People’s Party scored one of its best results ever in national elections, reaping the rewards of a campaign that leveraged concerns over immigration.

The SVP — as the party is known by its German acronym — is set to win 29% of votes, up from 25.6% four years ago, according to projections for public broadcaster SRF. That’s an even stronger win than anticipated in opinion polls and just short of its 2015 record of 29.4%. Official results will be published later on Sunday.

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The party has been Switzerland’s most popular for two decades, thanks to a focus largely on domestic issues such as immigration and the economy. The SVP wants to limit the country’s population to 10 million people, citing overstretched infrastructure and lack of housing.

It also seeks to enshrine the country’s traditional neutrality despite calls to respond more forcefully to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to cap the costs of the switch to sustainable energy.

Right-wing parties have been rising across Europe recently, with Germany’s AfD receiving a boost from voters in regional ballots and Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni still riding high in polls after a year in office. In neighboring Austria, the anti-immigrant Freedom Party is the front-runner for 2024 elections.

In Switzerland too, a rising sense of insecurity has shaped the vote, according to Michael Hermann, head of pollster Sotomo. In March, the collapse of Credit Suisse and its subsequent takeover by UBS Group AG cast a shadow over the solidity of the Swiss banking system.

“This is the shift to the right that we expected,” he said. “But the right-wing won’t be able to dominate  — there are balancing forces in parliament.”

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The SVP is not a “one-issue-party,” said Manfred Buehler, a party lawmaker from Bern.

“Of course we have a focus on migration,” he told SRF. “But we also have an eye on energy policy, where big corrections are needed, and on taxation to ensure that the middle class has real purchasing power.”

The right-wing shift was underscored by the success of the MCG alliance in Geneva, where the local populist group campaigned for preferential treatment of Swiss workers over France ones, while promoting left-wing social policies. 

Irrespective of the results, a shift in Switzerland’s executive is unlikely as the 7-member government isn’t formed by a coalition or outright majority but is a compact between the largest parties. Ministers will be elected by lawmakers on Dec. 13.

Nationally, the Social Democrats came a distant second to SVP, according to the projections, with the pro-business Free Democrats trailing the Center Alliance for third place, potentially threatening one of the FDP’s two seats in government. Switzerland’s two Green parties reversed most of the gains they made in 2019.

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People Power

At the same time, the outcome of the parliamentary election is much less of a determinant for future policy in Switzerland compared to other countries, as initiatives and referendums, held several times a year, give voters a say on everything from corporate tax to immigration.

The Social Democrats “will probably have to make greater use of plebiscites to correct” the shift to the right, Priska Seiler Graf, a lawmaker from Zurich, said in an interview with SRF.

Turnout was 46.5%, higher than in 2019 but still one of the lowest in Europe. The results suggest nine additional SVP seats in the 200-member lower house, while the green parties lose a combined 11, SRF said. 

(Updates with analysis starting in sixth paragraph)

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