Swiss right set for record seats in polls dominated by migrant fears
The Swiss populist right was set for record seats in Sunday's parliamentary elections amid concerns over migration, shifting the balance in the legislature towards the right, according to projections.
The Swiss People's Party looked set to seize nearly a third of seats in the lower house, the national broadcaster RTS said after votes had been fully counted in more than half of the country's 26 cantons.
The party, known for its virulent campaigns against immigration, the European Union and Islam, was expected to grab 65 of the 200 seats in the lower house, up from the current 54 and beating its previous record high of 62 seats after the 2007 election.
It was however only expected to take 28 percent of votes -- a clear improvement over the 26.6 percent it won in 2011, but below its 2007 record of 28.9 percent.
Along with advances made by the centre-right Liberal Party, Switzerland's third largest party, which was seen taking three additional seats in addition to its current 30, SVP's gains should tip the scale in parliament from the centre-left towards a centre-right majority.
SVP vice president Claude-Alain Voiblet hailed the expected "correction in parliament" benefitting the right, telling AFP his party had benefitted from speaking "directly to citizens about issues of concern like problems of security, immigration and the EU."
The Socialists, the country's second largest party, were meanwhile seen shedding two of its current 46 seats, while the Greens and Green Liberal Party were seen losing five and six seats respectively.
- 'Make Europe less attractive' -
The expected shift to the right comes as surging numbers of migrants and refugees moving through Europe have heightened the focus on the issue in Switzerland, even though the wealthy Alpine nation is yet to be significantly affected by the crisis.
"We have to make Europe less attractive and send a signal that we cannot give asylum here, not even to refugees of war," SVP chief Toni Brunner told AFP.
"People voted out of fear," said Socialist candidate Rebecca Ruiz told RTS.
About a quarter of Switzerland's eight million inhabitants are foreign nationals, and immigration and asylum policies tend to figure among voters' top concerns.
But the latest survey from the gfs.bern polling institute showed that nearly 50 percent of voters considered migration the most important issue facing the country.
The pollster said a Swiss campaign had not been so dominated by a single subject for decades.
"I think there is a lot at stake, not only when it comes to the reception of refugees, but also the entire problem of the large numbers on the move," Colette Morel, a 69-year-old retired teacher, told AFP as she cast her ballot in the central canton of Fribourg.
Among the SVP parliamentarians already sure to take new seat was Magdalena Martullo-Blocher in Graubunden.
She is the daughter of controversial politician Christoph Blocher, an SVP vice president who served in government from 2004-2007 before being pushed out over his extreme positions and confrontational style.
He insisted earlier this month that his party was the only one that could solve Switzerland's "asylum problem" and "eliminate the chaos".
SVP members also credited the party's harsh stance against closer ties with the neighbouring European Union for its advance.
Relations with the EU, Switzerland's top trading partner, have been badly hit by a narrow Swiss popular vote in February 2014, championed by the SVP, in favour of restricting immigration from the bloc.
- Second government seat? -
The centre-right Liberals are expected to cooperate closely with SVP on economic and energy issues but take a very different stance on other subjects, including immigration.
It remains unclear however what impact the shift in the lower house will have.
The makeup of the upper house, which with its 46 seats has an equal legislative say, remained unclear but was not expected to shift dramatically.
In any case, power-sharing and consensus rule are the norm in Switzerland and the power balance in parliament is not directly reflected in government.
Once the new parliament is in place, it will in December elect the government, with the seven posts 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.
Despite being the country's largest party, SVP holds just one seat. It has its eye set on a second seat, which could be easier with a centre-right majority parliament.
Voter turnout, which has not passed 50 percent in Swiss legislative elections since 1975, was expected to tick in at just 47.5 percent, according to early results.
© 2015 AFP