Rightwing Swiss party places itself in opposition

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Berne, December, 13, 2007 - Two members of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) elected to the seven-seat cabinet were effectively thrown out of their party Thursday when it chose to go into opposition, throwing the Swiss political establishment into its severest crisis in years.

The rightwing SVP party - the most popular in the country - announced Thursday it would go into opposition, saying its two members in the cabinet were now "without a party."

In a bitter speech to parliament, controversial SVP member Christoph Blocher announced the split in the party, adding that he had no intention of quitting politics despite being voted off the Federal Council, or cabinet, on Wednesday.

In two rounds of voting, the 246-member Federal Assembly denied Blocher the necessary absolute majority needed to confirm his seat in government, in which previously he had served as justice minister.

The Federal Assembly did re-elect six others to the seven-member Federal Council government, with Pascal Couchepin elected to take over the presidency for the year 2008.

SVP party colleague Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf was nominated in Blocher's place and on Thursday morning announced she would accept the nomination. She had been under pressure from the party to refuse and leave the way clear for Blocher to try once more for election.

Besides Widmer-Schlumpf, parliament also approved the other SVP candidate, Defence Minister Samuel Schmid, for a post in the new government.

Blocher has stirred controversy with his hard-line views on foreigners and asylum-seekers. His combative stance at the centre of Swiss politics, which is based on a consensual system between the different parties, left him isolated from his cabinet colleagues.

Two other co-ruling parties - the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats - had voiced their opposition to Blocher returning to government.

Problematic for the Swiss political system, however, is the fact that Blocher's SVP emerged as the strongest single party in the October elections, with 29 per cent of the vote.

Since 1959, four parties - the SVP, the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats - have ruled the country together under Switzerland's federal system. dpa


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