The New York Times


Swiss Voters Appear to Deliver ‘Green Wave,’ Rebuking Far Right

The New York Times, by Nick Cumming-Bruce, 20. Oktober 2019

In parliamentary elections on Sunday, two Green parties had historic successes, according to projections based on preliminary results. “We expected a Green wave but it’s a tsunami, almost,” one political scientist said.

GENEVA — Switzerland’s Green parties appear to have made historic gains in parliamentary elections on Sunday as Swiss voters rebuked the country’s long-dominant right-wing party after a campaign dominated by fears of climate change.

Projections based on preliminary results for most of Switzerland’s cantons showed the left-wing Green Party and the Green Liberal Party had achieved significant gains in their share of the popular vote, winning enough parliamentary seats to become a significant force in the legislature.

The right-wing Swiss People’s Party, which has focused largely on curbing immigration and Switzerland’s ties with the European Union, will remain the biggest party in Parliament. But in contrast to the rising fortunes of hard-right parties around Europe in recent years, it emerged as the biggest loser Sunday.

“It’s really spectacular,” said Pascal Sciarini, a political scientist at Geneva University. “We expected a Green wave but it’s a tsunami, almost.”

The two Green parties nearly doubled their combined share of the popular vote from just short of 12 percent during the last election, in 2015, to nearly 21 percent, according to projections by gfs.bern, a research institute that closely monitors Switzerland’s elections and referendums.

The results put the Green Party in position to hold 28 seats in the 200-member lower house of Parliament, making them the chamber’s fourth-biggest party. The Green Liberals are expected to gain nine seats, giving them 16. The left-wing Social Democratic Party, the second-biggest party in the chamber, is set to win 16.6 percent of votes.

“In Swiss terms, it’s a real election avalanche,” said Bathasar Glättli, who was re-elected to Parliament for the Green Party. “It’s much better than what we could have hoped for and the most optimistic poll projections.”

The Swiss People’s Party share of the vote appeared to have dropped to under 26 percent, wiping out gains it achieved in 2015. That year, it won close to 30 percent of the popular vote by stirring up alarm over the migrant crisis in Europe and pushing fiercely nationalist positions on Muslims and the European Union.

This year, it appeared to have lost 12 of its 65 seats in the lower house, and two smaller parties that share its anti-immigrant views each lost a seat. The results would break the right-wing parties’ majority in the lower house, Professor Sciarini said.

Turnout declined from the previous election to about 46.4 percent, a change that analysts attributed to weaker participation by the Swiss People’s Party base. Official results are expected Wednesday, but analysts expressed confidence that the projections would hold.

Switzerland’s political system is geared to promoting compromise, and the country’s seven portfolios are currently shared by the four main parties of the outgoing Parliament: the Swiss People’s Party, the center-left Social Democrats and by two center-right parties, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals.

On the basis of the numbers on Sunday night, the Green Party president, Regula Rytz, suggested the party would seek a change in the formula that distributes the seven seats on the ruling Federal Council.

Although the Swiss People’s Party followed a familiar playbook of anti-migrant and anti-European Union rhetoric ahead of the vote, the campaign was dominated by concerns over the dramatic effects of global warming on Switzerland.

Those concerns were partly prompted by environmental protests, some led by the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Dozens of climate activists last month staged a funeral on the rapidly melting Pizol glacier and at least 100,000 joined a rally in the capital, Bern, in September.

Even in conservative Seelisberg, a picture-postcard Alpine village that reflects Switzerland’s tradition of independence, some now say the Swiss People’s Party is out of step with the times, economically and environmentally.

“They want to pull everyone back to the mountains,” said Hans Aschwanden, a local cheese maker whose family has lived in the area for at least 400 years and who represents hundreds of members of a national cheese association. Its members have profited from easy access to European markets, he said. “We don’t want to go back to that,” he added, referring to a more isolated past.

The stronger Green presence in Parliament will inject new momentum into legislation to protect the environment. Switzerland has already committed to cut CO2 emissions to zero by 2050, but the Green parties will be pushing for a range of new measures, such as tighter regulation of vehicle emissions, a proposal for taxing air travel and an overall shift to renewable energy.

The results also raise the question of whether Swiss politics are shifting away from the right-leaning agenda of the last 30 years — or merely reflecting the circumstances of this election.

The Swiss People’s Party has experienced drops in popular support in the past but came back stronger than ever. Soon after Sunday’s election, debate will resume on a contentious agreement laying out a framework for relations with the European Union. There is nothing more important to the Swiss People’s Party, said Roger Köppel, a prominent member of the party, than defending Swiss independence from the bloc.

The party has called for a referendum next May on a motion to end the free movement of people, which is enshrined in European Union policy. If successful, it would lead to the unraveling of more than 20 agreements that govern Switzerland’s trade and economic ties with its major trading partners in Europe.

Still, there are warning signals that the far-right party’s influence may be weakening. The party has been on the losing side of six of the last seven national referendums, among them were a vote this May that tightened gun rules to align with the European Union.

Those results pointed to growing engagement by younger voters who previously were politically apathetic, said Flavia Kleiner, the co-founder of Operation Libero, a group that seeks to galvanize support for liberal causes. Support for the Swiss People’s Party is strongest among those aged 50 and over. By contrast, the Green Party’s support is strongest among under 40s.

“Is this the end of typical Swiss populism? It is extremely hard to say yes,” said Lukas Goldber, an analyst at gfs.bern. But if the far-right party wants to remain Switzerland’s most powerful political party it needs to change, he said, and there was little sign from its current leadership of any intention to do so.

Mr. Köppel sees that rigidity as a virtue. “Parties are not so important, issues are important,” he said. The strength of the Swiss People’s Party, he added, “is that they always stick to their basic concept, and don’t change quickly to take up any zeitgeist topics that come along.”

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