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(16 December 2023)

BERN. Switzerland turns further to the right wing: the elections for the 52nd federal parliament resulted in a significant increase in votes and seats for the People’s Party (SVP-UDC)[1] and a collapse for the Greens who lost 4 percentage points and six seats.




In the National Council, also known as the People’s House, (200 seats) the SVP-UDC rose from 25.4 to 27.9% and recovered the 9 seats lost in 2019, therefore obtaining 62 instead of 53.

The two green lists, which created the surprise four years ago, accumulated a total of 44 seats, have recorded huge losses:

• the radical Greens, the big losers of this polls, dropped from 13.2 to 9.8% and elected 23 deputies instead of 28;

• the liberal Greens, moderate environmentalists, confirm the 7.6% obtained in 2019, but lose 6 mandates (10 instead of 16).

The three traditional parties on the Swiss political scene show little change compared to the recent past:

– The Social Democrats (SPS-PSS) went from 16.8 to 18.3% and elected 41 deputies (+2);

– The liberals of the FDP-PLR lose 8 tenths of a point (14.3 instead of 15.1%) and give up one seat (28 instead of 29);

– die Mitte (the center) which brings together popular Christians and bourgeois democrats debuted with an encouraging 14.1% and elected 29 deputies.

The picture is completed by other small parties, mostly regional in nature, which send a total of 7 parliamentarians.



To find out the composition of the Council of States, also known as the House of Cantons, it had to wait for the ballots held in November in nine cantons.

The Center is the largest group (15 seats), followed by the Liberals with 11, the Social Democrats (9), the SVP (6), the Grünen (3), the Liberal Greens and the MCG (1).



The two Swiss federal Houses are elected with different electoral systems: the law governing the elections of the National Council provides that the lower house is elected with a proportional method based on the canton, with the exception of the less populated cantons which send only one deputy to Bern.

After each general population census, the government issues an ordinance that redistributes the 200 seats to the different states: as a result of the 2020 census, Basel Stadt lost one seat (4 instead of 5) and Zürich gained one (36 instead of 35).

In the cantons of Glarus, Nidwalden, Obwalden, the two Appenzells and Uri, where only one deputy is elected, the method chosen for the election is the first-past-the-post: the most voted candidate goes to Bern.

For the Council of States, the upper house, the electoral laws are different from canton to canton: having to elect two representatives for each state, one for the six semi-cantons, a double round has often been chosen.

In the first vote, the candidate who obtains the absolute majority passes; in the second the simple majority is sufficient.

In Appenzell InnerRhoden, the senator is elected by the Landsgemeinde, the cantonal popular assembly.



Since 1848, the Swiss Confederation has had a rather complex institutional architecture: having been born from an agreement between 23 sovereign states, executive power was entrusted, originally with limited powers, to a college of seven members, the Federal Council, elected every 4 years from the federal assembly, the two chambers meeting jointly.

The Government, to exercise its functions, does not need the confidence of the legislature, but is required to submit the majority of its decisions to the houses.

In 1874, with the first total revision of the federal Constitution, “semi-direct democracy” was introduced. Citizens can forward, by collecting signatures, popular initiatives of both a legislative and constitutional nature which, once the parliamentary process has been completed, are subjected to a popular vote: for this reason several federal and cantonal referenda are held several times a year in the Confederation and locally.

This and more makes the decision-making process very slow, because on the most important matters, everything must be done to reach a compromise: this forces the political and social forces into a complex dialogue in order to smooth out the edges: a too radical proposal would face a solemn failure in the popular vote.



Unlike what happens in other parliamentary democracies, the government is not born from a programmatic coalition agreement, but from a political pact established once for ever.

When the constitution of modern Switzerland was passed in 1848, the Radical Liberal Party was the predominant political force: until 1891 it monopolized government seats. Then it gradually gives up seats to other parties. In 1891, in fact, the first representative of the Conservative Catholic party was elected, in 1929 the SVP-UDC entered, in 1943 the SPS-PSS.

In 1959 the four most important parties in the country reached an agreement: the three strongest would have two representatives in the government, the fourth only one.

It is the so-called “magic formula”: this does not prevent individual parties from voting against government proposals or from launching popular initiatives or promoting referendums against laws adopted by the houses, because there is no risk of government crises, like those that they open periodically in neighboring countries.



At the cantonal or municipal level, the executives are elected directly by the people by applying locally established electoral laws.

At the federal level, the election of the government is up to the houses meeting jointly at the beginning of each legislature:
each of the seven outgoing federal councilors must declare in writing whether they intend to run for a new mandate.
Generally, the outgoing ones are reconfirmed (in Swiss history only four ministers have not been re-elected), in the event that one of the seven declares not to re-apply, the race for his succession opens.

To be elected, each candidate must obtain an absolute majority of votes validly cast, excluding blank and invalid ballots.

The members of the assembly can freely vote for whoever they want, even a non-parliamentarian or a person they deem worthy of being among the seven.

The vote takes place separately for each federal councilor, starting from whoever has been in government the longest.

The elected representatives swear an oath of loyalty to the Constitution.



After the autumn vote, therefore, on 13 December the Federal Assembly met to elect the Federal Council.

Six of the seven members of the Government stand again and are re-elected: the most voted is the head of the Economy Department Guy Parmelin (SVP-UDC) who receives 215 votes out of 246; the less so Elisabeth Baume-Schneider (SPS-PSS), who received only 151 ballots.

All the others are in the middle: however, the one who is attacked by a hostile parliamentary force that would like to enter government because it believes it has the votes to be there is the liberal Ignazio Cassis who direct the Foreign Affairs Department since 2017.

His opponents are the Greens who, despite having lost votes and seats on 22 October, claim a place among the seven and believe the FDP is over-represented in government.

They hope that in the secret of the ballot box some Social Democratic MP, allied with the environmentalists, will not follow the indication coming from the party leadership which invites people to vote for the official candidates: in the end some votes arrive because Gerhard Andreys, a name identified by the Greens, gets 59 votes, many more than the parliamentary group has, but Cassis is confirmed with 167 ballots.

The entry of the Greens into the Federal Council is not happening for now, but it is only a postponed issue.



As mentioned, among the seven outgoing candidates, one is not seeking re-election: Alain Berset (SPS-PSS), head of the Home Affairs Department, who announced his retirement in June.

Consequence: after the October elections the race to succeed him begins.

the social democratic group proposes a ticket, that is, two candidates from which the assembly can choose.

In the days before the vote, the hopefulls meet with the other assembly groups to undergo an exam on their skills.

Even before the vote, criticism emerged from the centre-right towards the choice made by the SPS-PSS: both competitors come from the left wing of the party. This could push someone to vote for a name with a more moderate and conversational orientation.

In fact, on 13 December, when the votes for the choice of Berset’s replacement began, the name of Daniel Josich, a social democrat from Zürich, emerged.known for his more centrist positions.

Josich obtained between 60 and 70 votes, but was unable to beat the strongest candidate proposed by his party, Beat Jans from Basel who was ultimately elected with 134 preferences out of 245.



Why did the SVP-UDC win in Switzerland in 2023 and the Greens lose?

After the 2019 elections and the “green wave” it seemed that environmental issues and the climate emergency were the most important priorities for the Confederation: the 2023 vote brought the issues of security, inflation and irregular immigration, all themes covered in the election campaign by the SVP.

The 43% increase in asylum applications in the first half of 2023 and the arrival of more than 65,000 refugees from Ukraine have provided sovereignists with the tools to wage their battle based on the foreign equals murderer axiom.

«On social media – writes – terrorist images have been seen: crimes committed by non-Swiss, bloody knives, hooded criminals, fists, bruised faces and frightened women.”

A propaganda with decidedly xenophobic tones which, in the end, however, bore fruit.

The international context has also played its part: the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, with their consequences of refugees and increases in the cost of living, have changed the order of priorities.

Switzerland, says the SVP, must be more sovereign, neutral, independent than in the past.

This is what Christoph Blocher, 82, a billionaire from Zürich, former member of parliament and minister, thinks, for example, and who has been dictating the party’s line for over thirty years: Switzerland – he says in an interview with – must remain strictly neutral, does not participate in conflicts or join alliances.

“this strategy works perfectly, given that we have not taken part in wars in the last two centuries. Bern is able to defend the national territory on its own: neutrality allows us to develop the diplomacy of good offices, a status of strictly neutral mediator.»

From this derives, for example, Blocher’s opposition to the sanctions decreed by the Federal Palace against Russia after the invasion of Ukraine:

“By participating in this conflict, we have effectively become one of Russia’s enemies, for which we received congratulations from US President Joe Biden. This is regrettable because one day we will have to put an end to this conflict and Switzerland could have acted as a mediator. Furthermore, the last meeting between Putin and Biden before the war took place in Geneva in June 2021. Now, however, we can no longer act as mediators because for Moscow we are involved.”

“Switzerland – concludes Blocher – needs more neutrality, not being a member of an alliance.”



Party which has taken on various names over the course of its history,since the 1990s it has been constantly growing, especially to the detriment of other centre-right, liberal and Christian Democrats.

The turning point came with the vote on the Confederation’s accession to the European Economic Area (EES): the SVP, led by Blocher, put himself at the head of the movement against this agreement which in his opinion would have made Bern a colony of the rising European Union.

The campaign was unusually harsh and ended with a clear popular no: since then the party inaugurated a growth trend that has not yet stopped.

In 2003, Blocher was elected to the Federal Council where he remained for four years: in 2007 he was ousted, but continued to exercise much influence inside and outside the party, which in the 2015 elections reached its historical maximum: 29.4% and 62 seats.

Among other things, if at the beginning the SVP phenomenon was practically limited to the Swiss-German cantons, that year there was also exponential growth in the Latin area (Ticino and Romandy).

In December of that year, the second UDC representative was elected in government: Guy Parmelin, coming from the Canton of Vaud.

In 2019 there was a decline, which was partly reabsorbed on 22 October: now the president of the party, Marco Chiesa, hopes that the result emerging from the polls will push the liberals, for example, to support some of the nationalists’ proposals, thus creating a forehead moved clearly to the right, in contrast with the red-green left.

Will it perhaps be the theme that will dominate Swiss politics in the coming years?




[1] Depending on the linguistic areas, the various Swiss parties take on different names:

– the SVP of German-speaking Switzerland becomes UDC in the Latin cantons;

– the FDP, again in the Germanic area, in Geneva and Lugano takes the acronym PLR;

– The German-speaking SPS becomes PSS in French-speaking and Ticino.

To write this piece, we chose to use, when necessary, the original names of the cantons. Zürich instead of Zurich, Basel Stadt instead of Basel City…

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