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Elections Show Switzerland’s Changing Political Climate

Finn de Thomas Wagner, International School of Berne
November 8, 2011


Sunday the 23rd of October marked the election for the 49th legislation period of the Swiss Federal Assembly. Both the 200 seats of the National Council (which can be considered the lower house of the Swiss Federal Assembly) and the 46 seats of the Council of States (considered the upper house) were up for election. These are the highest caliber elections in Switzerland, as there are no presidential elections that the country can vote in.
The general trend which can be seen in the results of the recent elections is the strengthening of the parties located at the centre of the Swiss political spectrum. Specific examples include the Green Liberal Party (GLP), which gained 4.0%, and Conservative Democrats (BDP), which gained 5.4%. The BDP is the party whose members recently split away from Swiss People’s Party (SVP), choosing a path of more moderate conservatism, and participating in elections for the first time. Their strong gains show that a number of people want a more moderate form of conservatism, not as extreme as the SVP. The fact that these two small parties have gained quite a bit of power means that the trend towards polarization in Swiss politics is being reversed, and that people are no longer choosing the parties on the extreme ends of the political spectrum such as SVP on the right or SP (Social Democrats) on the left. Polarization was happening in Switzerland during the 1990s and 2000s, but its reversal shows that people in general want a more centered and balanced government.
Every other party lost voters to the BDP and GLP. Two parties which had significant losses were SVP and FDP, the liberals. The SVP lost four of their 58 seats in both houses; they now have 2.4% fewer votes. The amount of seats a party uses are not in direct relation to how many votes they lose. Although they still hold a large number of seats, the fact that they lost seats is quite symbolic, considering they have been gaining seats for the past twenty years. The second party which also lost a significant number is the FDP. They also lost four of their 35 seats: a decrease of 2.5% in votes. The fact that the FDP lost this many also puts their second seat on the Swiss Federal Council in danger. Other parties, like the SVP, have already indicated that they will try and take control of this seat at the Federal Council elections in December of this year. The Federal Council is the seven member executive council which makes up the federal government of Switzerland and acts as the collective Swiss head of state.
Overall, this election had slightly unexpected outcomes, and trends which have been in place for many years are being reversed to a more centre oriented government.

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