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Head of Switzerland’s largest party to step down

The head of the populist rightwing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) Toni Brunner will resign in April, Switzerland’s largest party said Saturday, just months after securing record support in general elections.

Brunner, who has headed SVP since 2008, informed party officials at a meeting in the northeastern canton of Thurgau on Saturday that he intends to step down when his mandate ends on April 23, the party said in a statement.

“After eight years at the helm of Switzerland’s top party in terms of votes, he wants to once again concentrate on his political work as a parliamentarian and work on his farm,” it said.

SVP management has proposed parliamentarian Albert Roesti to succeed him, the statement said.

The announcement came less than three months after Brunner on October 18 led SVP — known for its virulent campaigns against immigration, the European Union and Islam — to secure nearly 30 percent of votes in parliamentary elections.

The strong support came as surging numbers of migrants and refugees moving through Europe have heightened 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,” Brunner told AFP on election night.

The party took 65 of the 200 seats in the lower house, and subsequently claimed a long-coveted second spot in the seven-member Swiss government.

SVP said Saturday that the party’s secretary general since 2009, Martin Baltisser, would also step down in April, when all party mandates will be up for grabs for a new two-year term.

SVP also said that it had created a working group, including Brunner, Baltisser and Roesti, to review the party structure.

“In the space of 25 years, SVP has gone from being a small party with 11.9 percent of votes to Switzerland’s largest party with 29.4 percent voter support. But the party structure has hardly changed,” it explained.