A boost for Swiss Greens, loss for populists in ‘climate election’

Switzerland's Green opposition parties gained significant voter shares in Sunday's national election, while the dominant anti-immigration People's Party lost some of its support.

Switzerland‘s Green opposition parties gained significant voter shares in Sunday’s national election, while the dominant anti-immigration People’s Party lost some of its support.

“It was definitely a climate election,” said Balthasar Glaettli, the leader of the left-wing Green faction in the lower house of parliament.

Glaettli’s Greens added 6.1 points to reach 13.2 per cent, while the centrist Green Liberals climbed 3.2 points to 7.8 per cent, according to the final result that was published online by Swiss public broadcaster SRF.

Although these are the strongest-ever results for the two parties in lower-house elections, a government role for the environmentalists looks elusive in the short run, owing to Switzerland‘s unique political process.

Like in many other countries, climate change has become a dominant political topic in Switzerland, whose signature Alpine glaciers have lost 10 per cent of their volume over the past five years.

Swiss polling institute Gfs.bern said that climate change and related carbon dioxide emissions had been the most decisive issue for voters, ahead of high health insurance costs; deadlocked talks between the European Union and non-member Switzerland; and immigration.

The People’s Party (SVP) largely ignored climate issues in its campaign and banked on its usual xenophobic and anti-EU rhetoric.

The SVP ended up defending its position as Switzerland‘s strongest party by a wide margin, but its support dropped 3.8 points to 25.6 per cent.

The Social Democrats, the second-strongest party, dropped 2 points to 16.8 per cent, followed by the Liberals, who inched down 1.3 points to 15.1 per cent.

The opposition Greens overtook the Christian Democratic People’s Party, which is in government and shed 0.2 points to reach 11.4 per cent.

However, it is unlikely that the two environmentalist parties will be able to join the next government, according to political analysts and to Green politicians.

In Switzerland‘s unique political system, one parliamentary election upset does not directly translate into a change of the Federal Council – the multi-party government that has included ministers from the SVP, the Social Democrats, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats for decades.

According to Swiss political tradition, any party that seeks to newly enter the government by changing its current party quota system should deliver strong results in at least two national elections in a row.

“We clearly do not claim a Federal Council seat,” Green Liberals leader Juerg Grossen told Swiss news agency sda-Keystone on Sunday.

His counterpart at the Greens, Regula Rytz, did not rule out that her party would push for being included in government.

“The Federal Council’s composition is no longer totally adequate,” she said in a television debate on Sunday evening, reflecting the strong gains for environmentalists.

However, Rytz said the Greens would only seek a government post if one of the current ministers resigned or retired.

Instead of a cabinet seat, the Greens on Sunday demanded a national “climate summit” of various party leaders and scientists to develop an emission reduction roadmap.


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