Swiss head to polls amid immigrant, EU debt fears

23rd October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Switzerland votes Sunday for a new parliament, with fears over immigration and the impact of the eurozone's public debt crisis set to sway voters towards the far-right.

With an unemployment rate of just 2.8 percent and healthy public finances and output figures, the alpine state is an island of prosperity in Europe.

Nevertheless, the far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP) appears to have struck a chord with the population through its aggressive campaign claiming that the "mass immigration" of foreigners was taking away Swiss jobs.

Voters had already received their ballot slips over two weeks ago, and with school holidays underway in many cantons, most have already cast their votes by post.

Polling stations will be open for a few hours on Sunday morning, but ballot boxes will be sealed by mid-day and sent to counting centres.

Results are set to trickle in as early as an hour later, with the small half canton of Appenzell Ausserhoden expected to announce their results at 1pm local time (1100 GMT).

Analysts do not expect any surprises emerging from the polls, although they note that a key issue would be whether the SVP manages to improve its 2007 score of 28.8 percent.

"An important issue at stake is whether the SVP will manage to maintain its 2007 score or improve it," said Pascal Sciarini, a political analyst.

"It's a very important point because it would mark the first time that a party has surpassed the 30 percent mark in Switzerland, which has not been the case since 1919," he added.

What is clear is that the party's anti-immigration platform appears to have gained traction.

Opinion polls indicate that immigration is the biggest concern of the Swiss.

Kevin Wolf, a student at the University of Geneva, said ahead of the polls that for him, the country's immigration policy "doesn't work."

"It's a problem of integrating the people into our society which is different from the countries where they come from so I don't think foreigners are the problem but the immigration and the integration is the problem," he said.

Foreigners made up 22.3 percent of the country's 7.9 million people at the end of August, 2011.

© 2011 AFP

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