Cablegate: Swiss October 21 Elections Set to Mark Only Measured

Published: Thu 18 Oct 2007 02:24 PM
DE RUEHSW #1020/01 2911424
R 181424Z OCT 07
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Swiss October 21 Elections Set to Mark Only Measured
Shifts in the Political Landscape Despite Vitriolic Campaign
REF: (A) BERN 896, (B) BERN 1009
1. (SBU) The upcoming Swiss national parliamentary elections on
October 21 look set to mark measured shifts of political support
from the center to the two extremes, with power still shared by all
of the current major political parties. The central questions to be
answered by this election are (1) the future trajectory of the
leading SVP, (2) how far the Greens will bleed votes from the SP,
and (3) what losses the mid-spectrum FDP and CVP will sustain. A
masterfully orchestrated campaign looks to bode well for continuing
SVP strength at near 27% of the vote, while a flagging sense of
relevancy may further sap the number two SP (down to about 22%) in
favor of the ascendant Swiss Green Party with at least 10%. The
mid-spectrum FDP and CVP look set to lose only a small amount of
their approximately 15% shares of the vote, depending on political
inertia to protect them, even in the face of lackluster leadership
for the FDP. Thus the "magic formula" for Swiss concordance
democracy does not appear to be at risk in this election, even
though the campaign has been the most vitriolic and controversial in
memory. What is new is the "personality politics", i.e., the
concentration of campaigning on certain individuals rather than
parties, with the SVP's Blocher occupying the headlines. End
SVP: Is The Trajectory Ever Upward?
2. (SBU) The first question to be answered by this election is the
future trajectory of the SVP (Swiss People's Party). Under the
leadership of current Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, the right
wing SVP has propelled itself over the past two decades into a
leadership position in Switzerland, with the latest polls predicting
it taking a historic high of about 27% of the vote - though just
slightly higher than its previous national election result of 26.7%.
The question now is how much more they can expect to attract voters
away from the other major national parties.
3. (SBU) The SVP has set the agenda for this election with its theme
of protecting Switzerland against what the SVP sees as unwanted,
unlawful foreigners. Their ubiquitous posters depicting three white
sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag have won them less
than flattering international media coverage and general scorn from
left-wing and pro-immigrant groups inside of Switzerland. But this
campaign strategy has allowed them to consolidate their base.
What's more, the SVP has used the Rohrschacher affair (involving
alleged wrongful dismissal of the Federal Prosecutor by Blocher -
see Ref A) and the recent clashes between pro- and anti-SVP
demonstrators in Bern just last weekend (See Ref B) to cast itself
as a victim of ungrounded accusations by a left-wing conspiracy that
it has been warning the Swiss electorate about.
4. (SBU) In a recent meeting with a young Zurich SVP candidate
Natalie Rickli, it was clear that the party is confident about its
chances and unrepentant about the black sheep political posters.
Rickli stated that campaign financing was not a problem for the SVP,
and she felt that many Swiss young people are turning to the SVP
rather than to other political parties because of the strong image
it projects. The SVP has consistently attracted the highest share
among young and (not so young) first-time voters.
5. (SBU) Most political commentators feel that the SVP has already
taken about as many votes away from the centrist parties as it can
hope for at this moment. But some say that as the Swiss population
ages and naturally becomes more conservative, the SVP's
bread-and-butter issues of security and protecting the Swiss way of
life are bound to be more and more attractive.
Bleeding from the SP to the Greens
6. (SBU) A second question is how Swiss voters will act on the left
end of the political spectrum, and specifically how many votes the
second largest party, the SP (Socialist Party), will lose to the
ascendant Swiss Green Party. The standard SP issues of a strong
social safety net and openness to the EU have had less and less
resonance with Swiss voters in recent years. Meanwhile, a strong
and growing environmental consciousness is luring many former SP
supporters to the Greens.
7. (SBU) One Green candidate for the national parliament from
Neuchatel, Ms. Doris Angst, estimated that her party would attract
at least 10% of the vote, and this is in spite of minimal campaign
BERN 00001020 002 OF 002
financing that permits only limited advertising and puts the
emphasis on personal contact with local voters. This is in line
with the most recent polls, which give the Greens about 11%
8. (SBU) However, the growth potential of the Greens is limited. As
a fringe party, they can only realistically hope to win seats in the
larger cantons, where a smaller share of the vote is sufficient to
win a seat, and in these areas the Greens already have established
themselves as a political force. Even surpassing 10% of the vote
(7.4% in 2003) would add no more than 2-3 seats to its current 13.
What's more, the extreme-left Green party faces competition on
environmental issues from the Green conservative party, which is
emerging as a political force to be reckoned with. Only on
environmental issues do the Green sister-parties see eye-to-eye.
FDP and CVP: Jockeying for the Middle
9. (SBU) The final question is how the parties in the middle of the
political spectrum, the FDP (Free Democratic Party) and CVP
(Christian People's Party), will fare. Over the past year, both
parties have been hovering at around 15% of the vote, but over the
past two decades have consistently been losing ground to the
political extremes, namely the SVP and SP. The CVP now has a
charismatic Federal Counselor in Ms. Doris Leuthard, and the most
recent polls show the CVP surpassing its old-time rival the FDP by a
small margin.
10. (SBU) Taken together, these two parties still constitute a
stabilizing force in Swiss politics and act as defenders of middle
class values. While there is occasional discussion in the Swiss
media of the possibility of a merger of the two mid-spectrum
parties, no one expects this to happen in the near future. One FDP
candidate that we met with recently, Ms. Eva Desarzens, emphasized
the deep-seated stability of the Swiss political system and the
enormous advantage of incumbency. Sitting officials are almost
never turned out by the voters, leaving candidates to fight over
seats that come open due to retirement or other reasons. Thus,
Desarzens saw the FDP and CVP as staying at approximately their
previous levels in this election.
11. (SBU) As for the relative balance between the FDP and CVP, some
political commentators have suggested that there may be implications
for the number of Federal Counselors that each have if the CVP
surges significantly. Presently the FDP has two (Couchepin and
Merz) and the CVP only one (Leuthard) after losing one in the last
election to the SVP. Since Couchepin is set to take his turn as
Swiss President in 2008, some commentators suggest that Merz's
position might be at risk. Most agree, however, that barring
catastrophic losses by the FDP, Swiss political inertia will
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Comment: Small Shift in Swiss Sentiments, Not System
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12. (SBU) Thus the "magic formula" for Swiss concordance democracy
does not appear to be at risk in this election, even though the
campaign has been the most vitriolic and controversial in memory.
What is new is the concentration of campaigning on certain
individuals rather than parties, with Blocher occupying the
headlines, even if he is one of the least beloved of all the Federal
Counselors, as opinion polls suggest. The gradual shift away from
the political middle over the past years has been one of degrees
rather than huge increments, and the basic middle class interests
represented by the FDP and CVP are still the largest single
political force, making it possible for them to continue acting as a
social and political stabilizer, if only in their role as a spoiler
in the face of unwanted extreme initiatives by either end of the
political spectrum. End comment.
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