Swiss cabinet reshuffle sparks infighting

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Switzerland's cabinet undertook Monday a major reshuffle, sparking political infighting after the election of two new ministers last week that gave women a majority in the federal government.

Socialist newcomer Simonetta Sommaruga will take over the justice and police ministry from Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, of the rightist PVB party, who is moving to the finance ministry, a government statement said.

Centre-right Radical-Liberal Johann Schneider-Amman, an entrepreneur who was also voted in by parliament on September 22, took over the economy ministry.

The current economy minister, Doris Leuthard, a Christian Democrat, took over the vacant transport, energy and environment post, that was previously occupied by a Socialist who has retired.

Posts in the seven-member, five party government, the Federal Council, which has no prime minister, are traditionally shared among the major parties from right to left under a tacit decades-old agreement dubbed the magic formula.

Although the justice ministry, which also deals with immigration policy, has traditionally been held by the centre-right, the Socialist Party protested that 50 year-old Sommaruga was the victim of "punitive action" in the reshuffle.

The Socialists warned in a statement that the new distribution of ministerial posts was "a bad omen for the future cohesion of the government," where decisions are taken on a collegial basis.

Sommaruga, who headed a leading Swiss consumer's lobby group, had been eyeing the economy ministry, but was forced into the other post by a majority vote of her colleagues on the Federal Council, according to her party.

Five of the seven posts are held by centre-right parties.

"Mrs Sommaruga was elected before Johann Schneider-Ammann, so she should have been able to choose her department, in which case she would have taken the economy ministry," Socialist Party spokesman Pierre-Yves Gentil told AFP.

He also complained that she was not a legal expert.

Sommaruga's credentials for the new job also prompted criticism from another governing party at the opposite end of the spectrum, the far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP), the largest single political party in parliament.

Socialist Micheline Calmy-Rey kept the foreign ministry, while the SVP's Ueli Maurer held on to the defence ministry.

© 2010 AFP

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