A right-turn for Switzerland?
By Alberto Mingardi
Some friends of mine are alarmed about the new course in Swiss politics. I tend to agree with Scott Sumner: Switzerland is my favourite political system. And I am not particularly alarmed by the latest elections, in which the Union démocratique du centre (UDC, Swiss People’s Party in German) has increased its own consensus. The UDC was traditionally rooted in farming and rural communities, but evolved into a major player in the early 2000s, when Christoph Blocher became its main spokesman.
Blocher, whose daughter also won a Congressional seat in the last elections, is basically a conservative, who opposes what he regards as excessive immigration (particularly if coming from the Middle East) and doesn’t want Switzerland to join the European Union. I don’t necessarily agree with Blocher’s ideas, (see here for a thoughtful defense of relatively open borders in Switzerland by Gerhard Schwarz) but I think it is ridiculous to claim that the UDC poses any threat to Swiss democracy. Also, given the persisting troubles of the European Union, I can hardly blame the Swiss, if they don’t like the idea of joining the EU. On top of that, it needs to pointed out that for years the UDC won many battles through popular federal initiatives and referenda which it promoted.
Let’s get back to the election. UDC gained 29% of the votes at the last assembly. In term of seats, it gained 11 seats: in the lower house it now has 65 seats out of 200.
Note that the UDC already gained 29% in the 2007 election and then 26% in 2011. Both times the party enjoyed a plurality in the legislature. And Swiss democracy seems to have survived rather well.
But what does electoral success mean as far as the government is concerned?
The new Swiss Federal Cabinet will be voted on by the Parliament in December. It has seven members and it is, as it is described in Wikipedia, a “voluntary grand coalition of political opponents”. Switzerland is a directorial republic: it is the Council which is head of state, and precisely for this reason its decisions are taken in collegiality.
Now, the UDC gained a second seat at the table in 2003, when it reached 26% of the votes for the first time. This time, it will again have two people on the Council, which has’t happened in the last few years, basically due to power-fights and defections within the party itself.
Is that going to affect Switzerland substantially? I doubt it. To me, all the fuss about Switzerland these days is basically due to one of the few regularities in democratic politics: the intellectual loves democracy, insofar as people are voting in a way she approves.
The Swiss political system is conceived to protect the country’s institutions, and somehow to slow down the pace of political change: which might be a nightmare anywhere else, but in Switzerland is a blessing.