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Swiss political system in turmoil after party split

Published on 13/12/2007

The nationalist-conservative Swiss People's Party (SVP) led all parties in winning 29 per cent of the vote in the October general elections.

But it was Wednesday’s parliamentary vote on a new Federal Council, or cabinet, in which controversial SVP politician Christoph Blocher was denied re-election, which led the extreme right wing faction to split off and officially declare its opposition.

Both chambers of parliament instead elected his more moderate colleague Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, while Defence Minister Samuel Schmid, also of the SVP, was likewise retained. The pair were immediately rejected by the far right of their party.

The faction led by the outspoken Blocher, who has spearheaded the SVP’s isolationist and anti-foreigner stance, promised a new era of confrontation for Swiss politics which for decades was based on a consensus system between the four main parties.

In a bitter speech to parliament on Thursday, Blocher said he did not understand the reason for the "deception" that had led to him being stripped of his post in the seven-strong cabinet.

"You will have to make do with a government where only three parties are represented plus two ministers without a party," he said.

"The deception is not that you have chosen someone else for the government but the way in which you have done it," Blocher said, and added that had no aim to quit politics as some may have hoped.

Widmer-Schlumpf, under pressure from the SVP to reject the seat, finally accepted it early Thursday, in a speech stressing the "importance of tolerance."

The split within the party became visible when SVP president Casper Baader said that Widmer-Schlumpf, while being an SVP member for 30 years, had views widely different from the party’s. He also accused parliament of ignoring the wishes of voters.

SVP member Hans Fehr told Swiss Radio: "We have said from the start if are two cabinet members were not re-elected we would put ourselves in opposition and that is what we have done. From now on, Samuel Schmidt and Madame Widmer-Schlumpf are no longer members of this faction and thus are not no longer our representatives."

The SVP had campaigned in October on an anti-foreigner ticket illustrated by the now infamous poster of white sheep kicking out a black sheep. It promised a harder line on policies such as cooperation with Europe and on defence on which they had been silenced up till now due membership in the cabinet.

The developments have thrown Swiss politics into new turmoil. Some claimed the cabinet elections were a victory for the left, namely the Socialists and the Greens, who had conspired to remove Blocher.

Others in the SVP itself defended the party’s two ministers who they insisted had been elected as party members by the voters in their cantons and could not be ostracized.

Meanwhile some 1,500 people demonstrated outside parliament in Berne to celebrate Blocher’s forced ouster from the cabinet. dpa