Nationalists Win Big in Swiss Election
By ALEXANDER G. HIGGINS
The Associated Press
Monday, October 22, 2007; 6:22 AM
GENEVA — The nationalist Swiss People's Party received the highest vote ever recorded for an individual political party in Switzerland after a bitter campaign blaming foreigners for much of the country's crime, according to official results released Monday.
But although many saw the campaign as tainted by racism or xenophobia, the Swiss also elected their first black parliament member Sunday.
The Federal Statistics Office put the People's Party at 29 percent after the national parliamentary elections. That topped the 1919 performance of 28 percent achieved by the pro-business Radical Democrats when Swiss elections were reorganized immediately after World War I.
The Social Democrats were the big losers, dropping to 19.5 percent from 23.3 percent.
The People's Party added seven seats to bring to 62 its total in the 200-seat National Council, the lower house of parliament, also edging out the Radical Democrats' 1919 record of 60.
People's Party president Ueli Maurer and other party leaders pledged to continue working among the four major parties in the long-standing Swiss system of consensus politics that covers the wide range from Social Democrats on the left to People's Party on the right. All four parties share in the governing Cabinet, without a prime minister and with the president only a figurehead.
The People's Party claims foreigners are responsible for much of the crime in the country. In the campaign, the People's Party called for a law to throw out entire immigrant families if a child violates Swiss laws _ the most recent variation of the party's anti-foreigner theme.
Party posters featuring white sheep kicking out a black sheep sparked outrage that was blamed in part for a riot two weeks before the election.
Despite the tension, Ricardo Lumengo of the Social Democrats, an Angolan who arrived in Switzerland as an asylum seeker the 1980s and subsequently became a legal expert, became the first black parliament member elected by the Swiss.
Switzerland's population of 7.5 million includes about 1.6 million foreigners, including many workers from southern Europe and refugees from the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Applicants for Swiss citizenship typically must wait years and clear administrative hurdles before they are granted Swiss passports.
The Social Democrats have 43 seats, a drop of nine. The Green Party added six to its 2003 performance, bringing its total to the party's best showing of 20 seats, reflecting concerns for the environment on the left.
“I'm very happy with the result,” said Ruth Genner, president of the Greens. But she noted that the party appeared to be just short of its goal of 10 percent. If it had reached that figure, it had said it would ask to join the four major parties in the Cabinet.
The two center-right parties, the Radical Democrats and the Christian Democrats, each had about 15 percent of the vote _ about the same as in 2003 _ but the Radical Democrats will lose five seats for a total of 31. The Christian Democrats will gain three seats for the same total.
Nearly 4.8 million Swiss voters were eligible to cast ballots Sunday for the two-chamber National Assembly: the National Council and the 46-seat Council of States. Results for the upper chamber were incomplete because a runoff will be held Nov. 25. The full assembly will then determine the makeup of the seven-member Cabinet on Dec. 12.
Associated Press writers Eliane Engeler in Geneva and Balz Bruppacher heading an AP team in Bern, Zurich, Lugano, St. Gallen, and elsewhere contributed to this report.