Left gains more ground in local elections

Bernese voters preferred to ignore the temptation of a strong rightwing government Keystone

Switzerland's political right has been taking a beating in local and cantonal ballots at the hands of the Social Democrats and the Greens, including in Bern on Sunday.

This content was published on April 10, 2006 minutes

Political analyst Hanspeter Kriesi told swissinfo that voters were increasingly fed up with the "arrogance" of the right and saw the Greens as the new liberals.

The left gained the upper hand in Bern's cantonal elections on Sunday, with three Social Democrats and a Green elected to the seven-member government. The press described the result as a "sensation" in a canton known for its conservatism.

The outcome came as a blow especially to the rightwing Swiss People's Party, which had been hoping for a fourth seat, but instead lost one. The centre-right Radicals also had a bad showing losing one of their two seats.

"For the government election, it was a case of voters wanting to punish the right for trying to claim six out of seven seats," said Kriesi, head of the Center for Comparative and International Studies in Zurich.

Too arrogant

"The right was seen as too arrogant. Even so, it was a surprise since Bern is traditionally conservative."

But Kriesi reckons the Bernese parliamentary election was a better barometer of change.

"The left as a whole has made gains, especially the Greens, while the mainstream parties, including the centre-left Social Democrats, lost votes in parliament," he told swissinfo.

These results come shortly after the left - and the Greens in particular - made spectacular gains in local elections in canton Vaud, and a few months after governments in cantons Neuchâtel and Geneva swung to the left.

But Kriesi says the Greens new-found success has little to do with voters' interest in the environment.


"There are an increasing number of people who are economically liberal and culturally very liberal," he added. "This is very much the position of the Green Party in Switzerland, which is very libertarian and not too far left on economic issues."

According to Kriesi, this makes the Greens particularly attractive to middle-class voters, who are abandoning the traditional liberals, the Radicals.

Many of these voters, he believes, are not comfortable with the Radicals cozying up to the more populist People's Party on a number of issues or sealing alliances at election time.

Nationwide, the left as a whole has made gains in local government, even if this has not always been reflected in parliamentary elections. Kriesi says this is because the emerging pragmatic left has become more appealing to voters.

"This has been especially because of the Greens, who have been reinforcing the left," he said.

Kriesi added that the Bern vote could be an indication that the People's Party - which won the largest share of the vote in the 2003 federal parliamentary elections - has reached the limits of its support.

EU ties

The party, which is staunchly anti-Europe, also suffered two defeats at the ballot box last year, when voters came out in favour of signing up to two treaties with the European Union. One gradually opens up the labour market to the new EU member states, the other provides for closer cooperation on crime fighting and asylum.

"Our research has shown that the People's Party has exploited its potential to its maximum," Kriesi said. "It cannot grow any more, although it won't lose much ground either."

Looking ahead to federal parliamentary elections next year, Kriesi says the momentum in local and regional ballots could bode well for the Left.

In his view, the determining factor will be whether the Radicals get closer to the People's Party. This could cost the centre-right formation one of its two government seats in 2007.

swissinfo, Scott Capper

In brief

The rightwing Swiss People's Party and the centre-left Social Democrats are the two largest parties in the federal parliament.

The former won the largest share of the vote in parliamentary elections in 2003, and gained a second seat in the seven-strong cabinet.

Under an informal power-sharing agreement in place since 1959, cabinet seats are shared out among the four main parties.

The two centre-right parties, the Radicals and the Christian Democrats, suffered setbacks in 2003.

The Christian Democrats, who lost their second cabinet seat, have a strong support base in central Switzerland. But the Radicals are seen as vulnerable to further electoral losses.

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Key facts

Swiss parliament (2003 elections):
House of Representatives:
55 members from the People's Party
36 Radicals
28 Christian Democrats (centre-right)
52 Social Democrats
13 Greens
16 other parties
15 Christian Democrats
14 Radicals
9 Social Democrats
8 People's Party

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