Widmer-Schlumpf steps in for Merz
Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf has taken over the portfolios of Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz, who suffered a heart attack on Saturday.
Merz is in stable condition at Bern University hospital following a quintuple bypass operation on Sunday evening.
President Pascal Couchepin made the announcement about Merz's replacement after an extraordinary meeting of the cabinet on Monday morning.
Widmer-Schlumpf, who was responsible for the finance portfolio of canton Graubünden before she was elected to the government last December, will be backed up by Environment, Transport and Communications Minister Moritz Leuenberger.
Couchepin said he, as president, would cast the deciding vote in case of a stalemate over government business since the cabinet had been reduced to six members.
He said it was expected that Merz would remain in hospital for between four and eight weeks. Still unclear is whether the 65-year-old finance minister has suffered any brain damage.
However, Couchepin said doctors had upgraded Merz's condition from "stable but critical" to simply "stable".
The president said a decision on Merz's possible return to the cabinet or resignation would have to be taken before the start of parliament's winter session in December.
Merz suffered the heart attack on Saturday evening in his hometown of Herisau in eastern Switzerland.
Initially treated in the local hospital before being transferred to the cantonal hospital in St Gallen, he was flown by helicopter to Bern on Sunday.
Heart specialist Thierry Carrel told a news conference on Sunday evening that the quintuple bypass operation had gone well.
Carrel described the two-and-a-half hour operation as routine and noted that the attack had not been severe.
It came at the end of a week in which Merz had been under particular stress, against a background of the ongoing global financial crisis. However, the media and Swiss politicians said he had shown no signs of strain.
The president of Merz's centre-right Radical Party, Fulvio Pelli, said he was concerned about the health problems of Merz.
Taken by surprise
He told the Associated Press news agency that everyone had been taken by surprise because Merz had looked in good health.
"Mr Merz was at the present time an anchor for the stability of Switzerland... I wish him the best," he added.
Christian Levrat, president of the centre-left Social Democratic Party also wished Merz a speedy recovery.
He commented that the illness had come at a bad time, with the world financial system in crisis.
"From my point of view, the government is being too passive. It must take its responsibilities to prevent a crisis in Switzerland."
swissinfo with agencies
Hans-Rudolf Merz of the centre-right Radical Party replaced Kaspar Villiger in the Swiss cabinet at the beginning of 2004.
Between 1997 and his entry into the government, he represented canton Appenzell Outer Rhodes in the Swiss Senate.
Merz is married and has three sons.
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