Switzerland’s Right-Wing Party Surges on Immigration Concerns

Switzerland’s right-wing People’s Party scored one of its best results ever in national elections, reaping the rewards of a campaign that leveraged concerns over immigration.

(Bloomberg) — Switzerland’s right-wing People’s Party scored one of its best results ever in national elections, reaping the rewards of a campaign that leveraged concerns over immigration.

The SVP — as the party is known by its German acronym — won 28.6% of votes, up from 25.6% four years ago. That’s an even stronger win than anticipated in opinion polls and close to its 2015 record of 29.4%. 

The party has been Switzerland’s most popular for two decades, thanks to a focus largely on domestic issues such as immigration and the economy. The SVP wants to limit the country’s population to 10 million people, citing overstretched infrastructure and lack of housing.

“The worry about an explosion of the population is big,” Thomas Matter, an SVP lawmaker from Zurich, told SRF. “I do hope that the conservative parties now work together on immigration matters, so the SVP doesn’t have to tackle this alone.”

The party also seeks to enshrine the country’s traditional neutrality — despite calls to respond more forcefully to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and to cap the costs of the switch to sustainable energy.

Right-wing groups have been rising across Europe recently, with Germany’s AfD receiving a boost from voters in regional ballots and Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni still riding high in polls after a year in office. In neighboring Austria, the anti-immigrant Freedom Party is the front-runner for 2024 elections.

In Switzerland too, a rising sense of insecurity has shaped the vote. In March, the collapse of Credit Suisse and its subsequent takeover by UBS Group AG cast a shadow over the solidity of the Swiss banking system.

Nationally, the Social Democrats came a distant second to the SVP, with the Center Alliance edging out the the pro-business Free Democrats for third place. Switzerland’s two Green parties reversed most of the gains they made in 2019, according to official results.

Irrespective of the results, a shift in Switzerland’s executive is unlikely as the 7-seat government isn’t formed by a coalition or outright majority but is a compact between the largest parties. Ministers will be elected by lawmakers on Dec. 13 and the centrists already announced that they won’t challenge sitting members.

Read More: Swiss Centrists Won’t Claim FDP’s Second Government Seat

The SVP’s win translates into nine additional seats in the 200-member lower house, bringing its total to 62.

The right-wing shift was underscored by the success of the MCG alliance in Geneva, where the local populist group campaigned for preferential treatment of Swiss workers over French ones, while promoting left-wing social policies. 

Fanning Polarization

The SVP’s win will energize those who want the party to focus on radical positions instead of trying to forge compromises — something that has been at the core of Swiss politics for decades.

“If the outlier parties score with a campaign like this, then there’s no incentive to collaborate,” said Georg Lutz, a professor of political science at Lausanne university.

Still, the outcome of the parliamentary election is much less of a determinant for future policy in Switzerland compared to other countries, as initiatives and referendums, held several times a year, give voters a say on everything from corporate tax to immigration.

The Social Democrats “will probably have to make greater use of plebiscites to correct” the shift to the right, Priska Seiler Graf, a lawmaker from Zurich, said in an interview with SRF.

With ballots happening so often, turnout in national elections is traditionally low. The 46.6% recorded on Sunday was higher than in 2019, but still one of the lowest in Europe.

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