There Is Tension In THe Air, Says First Black MP As Swiss Take A Turn To The Right

There is tension in the air, says first black MP as Swiss take a turn to the right

David Charter in Berne
From The Times
October 23, 2007

The first black MP in Switzerland said yesterday he was worried about the direction of his country after an election that was won by a right-wing party with a strident antiimmigration message.

Ricardo Lumengo, who fled Angola as a student activist in 1982 and was elected to parliament in Sundays vote, said he feared that other political refugees would be turned away in the current climate of hostility towards foreigners. Mr Lumengo, 45, told The Times that he felt singled out personally by a controversial poster at the heart of the campaign by the Swiss Peoples Party, which showed three white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag.

The SVP consolidated its position as the biggest party in parliament in the elections, partly at the expense of Mr Lumengos Social Democrats, and is planning to press ahead with tougher immigration laws. It maintained that the poster was not racist but illustrated its proposed policy of ejecting foreign criminals.

We do not like it that people abroad see us as against foreigners. I am proof that not all of Switzerland thinks like that, said Mr Lumengo, who trained as a lawyer in Switzerland and completed the tests for his Swiss passport in 1997.

One of the key trends in the election was the increase in support for the SVP and its charismatic billionaire figurehead Christoph Blocher from the French-speaking southwest of the country, beyond its powerbase in German-speaking Zurich.

Despite a disastrous showing by his left-wing party, which lost 9 of its 43 seats, Mr Lumengo became an MP for Biel, a bilingual town also known as Bienne, near the capital, Berne. He said: I have had a good experience in Switzerland for 25 years but the situation has changed and I feel I would have difficulties if I came now. There is a tension, a conflict now between foreigners and Swiss. Other politicians are talking irresponsibly by suggesting that foreigners are responsible for all the countrys problems. We, the Socialists, are worried that this is the wrong direction for the country.

Mr Lumengo said he hoped that his election as an MP would be a symbol showing many things, including that Switzerland was not a racist country. There are people who are building another Switzerland, a Switzerland of tolerance and a Switzerland of dialogue, he said.

Mr Blocher kept a low profile yesterday as the SVP celebrated its gain of seven seats, giving it 62 of the 200 MPs and making it the largest party since the proportional representation system was introduced in 1919.

But Ueli Maurer, the SVP president, said that its increased support gave the party approval to rule out talks on joining or even cooperating further with the European Union. The idea of EU accession should at last get out of everyones heads, Mr Maurer said. The first casualty is likely to be an attempt by the EU to persuade Switzerland to raise its favourably low corporation tax levels. An SVP spokesman said: We think that the election was confirmation that the Swiss people do not want to join the EU.

The party confirmed yesterday that it would not seek to change the consensual style of government established in the 1950s, with four parties sharing power and no single prime minister. Mr Blocher, who resigned as an MP when he joined Switzerlands ruling seven-member Federal Council in 2003, is expected to have little trouble gaining reappointment in December.

According to a report by KPMG, the financial adviser, the average corporate tax rate in Switzerland is 21 per cent. But in Obwalden, in the centre of the country, it is 13.1 per cent, and the rate is 16.4 per cent in Zug, near Zurich. That compares with 38.3 per cent in Germany and 33.3 per cent in France.

Some companies, such as Kraft Foods, have relocated to the low-tax cantons from the EU, allowing them to minimise the tax that they pay in the big European markets.

Preliminary results

19.5: percentage of votes cast for Ricardo Lumengos Socialists

29: percentage of vote won by Swiss People's Party (SVP)

43: seats retained by the Socialists in 200 seat lower house, down from 52 in 2003 election

62: seats taken by SVP in lower house, seven more than in 2003

1919: most recent year in which any party won such a strong mandate

Sources: IFES Election Guide; Times archives

Have your say:

We already have the SVP in England – they're called the BNP. And they dress up nasty policies in pretty language too.

John, london,

SVP is the wave of the future! What Switzerland does today the rest of the World follows tomorrow. Luckily the Swiss People still hold sway in their own country. In N. America and the rest of Europe, it seems the people have the same views as the SVP, only “our elected” officials not only ignore the will of the people, they criminalize dissenting opinions! The Main Stream Media has all but blacked out what has happened in Switzerland lest the rest of the World should come to its senses! Congratulations Mr. Blocher and the SVP!!

Roy Albrecht, Hamilton, Canada

This “far-right” label makes some people tremble and fear the worst, however, if you read the SVP's proposal as I did you won't see anything annoying. In fact, their line seems for me very consistent as well as their “extradition rule” which is worth ONLY for very harsh criminals. I hope they can carry on this project within its desired limits.

marcelo sapag, sao paulo, sao paulo