On 18 October Swiss voters elected new representatives for the two chambers of the Swiss parliament.
Though there has to be a second round of elections for the smaller chamber of parliament, the Council of States, the results are clear. As was generally predicted the right wing nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) won the most votes, increasing its share of votes to 29.4%.
The SVP now has 65 representatives in the National Council. Of the major left parties, the Social Democratic Party was unable to win territory and stagnated, increasing the share of its vote by 0.1% but losing two representatives. The Greens lost four out of their formerly 15 seats as well as 1.3% of the share in votes.
The conservative nature of the Swiss political system which is enshrined in its federal and local nature as well as the relative stability of the Swiss economy do account for the shift. The election result nevertheless does give expression to important changes in the Swiss social fabric.
The SVP was able to win on mainly two issues: immigration and Euroscepticism. Large amounts of the right’s campaign funds were directed towards fear mongering about Switzerland being colonised by migrants and, of course, Islam.
The increased influx of refugees into Europe this summer proved to be a fertile ground for this hateful propaganda. The SVP also made use of a warped self-image of Switzerland as a country that always stood up to foreign oppressors, preserved its archaic democracy and has been fiercely neutral in all European conflicts.
The EU was casually compared to the old Habsburg Empire, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The whole nasty repertoire of far right ideas was dug up during the election campaign.
This is all the more absurd if we keep in mind that the SVP’s rise is very much due to its massive financial backing by Christoph Blocher, who made billions in the chemical industry.
The Switzerland the SVP defends is not the peasant democracy of yore, but the very real capitalist Switzerland of today. A country that becomes increasingly more parasitic, scrounging off international tax evasion, speculative banking and extractive companies which overexploit Third World countries. For this sector of finance capital Switzerland has become a safe haven. Financial crisis and pressure from without have shaken the coziness of the Swiss middle classes and made them painfully aware of their increasing dependency on foreign events. Especially the European Union, undermining Swiss democracy by enforcing human rights and demanding an end to uncontrolled tax evasion — now the perceived number one threat to the countries prosperity!
During the election campaign the left failed to find a clear voice of opposition. Not even a vague “us down here against them up there” rhetoric was used. Instead, especially the Social Democratic party, in accordance with their participation in government since 1943, tried to portray themselves as embodiment of “Staatsräson”, the interests and logic of the state as such.
The left failed to present a clear cut alternative to neoliberal, racist and Eurosceptic politics and failed to deliver an inspiring message beyond “prevent a shift to the right”, and paid the price.