Swiss finance minister quits government after populist right surge
Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf announced Wednesday she would quit after seven years in government, vacating a seat coveted by the populist right party that swept parliamentary polls earlier this month.
Widmer-Schlumpf was vague about her reasons for leaving, but insisted her departure had nothing to do with the results of Swiss parliamentary elections on October 18.
She had been widely expected to announce her resignation after her already tiny Conservative Democrats lost ground in the elections, while the populist rightwing anti-immigration Swiss People's Party (SVP) strengthened its already dominant position.
"I will leave the Federal Council (the government) at the end of the year," she told reporters.
The centre-right Liberals also gained significant ground at the election, tipping the scales in the lower chamber of parliament to the right.
The new parliament will elect the government's seven members in December, but the power balance in the house does not directly impact the make-up of the Swiss government.
Instead, the seven posts are traditionally shared among the major parties from right to left under a tacit decades-old agreement, dubbed "the magic formula" aimed at ensuring political stability.
But SVP's rise to become Switzerland's largest party in the late 1990s put pressure on the system, which had allowed the Swiss government to maintain an identical party-level composition for 40 years.
In 2003, SVP demanded that it take two seats instead of one to reflect its status.
Widmer-Schlumpf, then part of SVP's moderate wing, won its second seat in 2007 over the party's top choice, firebrand Christoph Blocher, and she was kicked out.
She held onto her seat, creating the Conservative Democrats, which in the last elections won just over four percent of the vote.
With its record 29.4 percent of the vote, SVP has increased its demands to recover its second seat.
During her time in office, Widmer-Schlumpf has perhaps been most associated abroad with her role in bringing Switzerland's long-cherished tradition of banking secrecy to an end with an agreement on the automatic exchange of banking data set to take effect by 2017.
© 2015 AFP