Swiss voters seen leaning right amid migrant, economic fears

17th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Switzerland will head to the polls Sunday to elect a new parliament, with the far-right expected to gain ground on the back of fears over immigration and the impact of the eurozone's public debt crisis.

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.

"Even if Switzerland is a country that is not suffering from unemployment, there is a subjective fear among the population about feeling the impact of the financial and economic crises," said Pascal Sciarini, political analyst.

"Therefore immigration is an important topic of this campaign, and unemployment is another important topic," he added.

According to an opinion poll two weeks ahead of the election, migration tops voters' concerns with environmental issues, particularly the future of nuclear energy, a close second.

While Swiss economic indicators look solid, the country's export-led industry has seen its earnings sharply reduced in recent quarters as the franc strengthened dramatically against the euro and US dollar.

The Swiss National Bank has since fixed a floor of 1.20 francs against the euro, but exporters are calling for more action.

Besides exporters, domestic retailers are also having to lower prices in order to prevent their customers from heading to neighbouring countries to do their shopping.

As earnings come under pressure, some companies have instituted regimes such as longer working hours for less pay, or even cut jobs, all of which have contributed to the atmosphere of uncertainty.

"It is a Switzerland that is more frightened, more politically unstable," argues Sciarini.

The centre-right Radical Party has built its campaign around employment, specifically saying that it plans to "boost small and medium size companies as well as favour the creation of jobs."

Likewise the other key centre-right party, the Christian Democrats, has modelled itself as "Switzerland's economy party." It is promising greater investments in research and innovation and job creation in new sectors such as green technology.

But the SVP appears to be leading the race.

Latest opinion polls indicate that the party is on track to better its 2007 election score of 28.8 percent. The Radicals appeared to be losing ground while support for the Christian Democrats remained fairly unchanged compared to the previous polls.

Analysts attribute SVP's success to its effective marketing.

This year, the message is simple: "That's enough. Stop mass immigration," screamed the SVP's key posters plastered all over the country's largest train stations.

In fact, the SVP may become the first political party to poll 30 percent or more in about a century, analysts noted.

But beyond the far-right push, environmental parties are also set to gain seats, as concerns over the future of nuclear energy surfaced following Japan's Fukushima accident.

Support for the Green Party stabilised at 9.3 percent while that for the Liberal Green Party increased to 4.9 percent, up 3.5 points from the previous polls, according to opinion polls.

© 2011 AFP

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