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Swiss Greens Surge at the Expense of the Anti-Immigrant Right

Catherine Bosley
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Swiss Greens Surge at the Expense of the Anti-Immigrant Right

(Bloomberg) -- Switzerland’s environmentalists achieved a historic result in Sunday’s parliamentary election with the chance of a role in government, while the dominant anti-immigrant SVP was dealt a setback.

The Greens overtook the Christian Democrats to become the fourth-strongest party in parliament’s 200-member lower house, and the Green Liberal Party (GLP) also increased its share of the vote, meaning the two -- who agree on topics like phasing out nuclear power but differ on economic policy -- have about a quarter of the chamber.

Despite clinching roughly 26% of the ballots, the euro-skeptic Swiss People’s Party (SVP) was set to lose 12 seats, according to the country’s statistics office, with voters swayed more by environmental concerns rather than promises to clamp down on immigration.

Polls had predicted an environmentalist victory, and their success is a trend evident across Europe in a year of extreme summer heat and melting Alpine glaciers. The movement kicked into action by teenage activist Greta Thunberg got credited for redrawing the political landscape in Austria last month.

“I’m completely overwhelmed,” Green President Regula Rytz said on SRF television. “It’s a very strong shift that we didn’t anticipate like this.”

The environmentalists’ strong showing is likely to intensify calls for a Green minister in Switzerland’s multi-party government, which will be chosen by the newly formed legislature in several weeks’ time.

That would probably happen at the expense of the Christian Democrats, and might shift the cabinet, typically made up of the strongest parties, to the left.

Yet the Greens aren’t as well represented in parliament’s upper house, and there’s historical precedent for the executive not exactly reflecting the electoral result.

“I don’t see such a majority” for a Green seat when parliament chooses the government in December, said University of Lausanne Professor Georg Lutz. Because centrist lawmakers will probably back the status quo, “the likelihood of a different composition of government is very small.”

Even with the SVP on the back foot, the election is unlikely to herald the end of the anti-immigrant party’s two decades of dominance.

“Of course, I am not satisfied today,” SVP President Albert Roesti told SRF. “On the other hand, we are by far the strongest party at more than 25%. Despite months of discussions in the media about climate change, one in four voters believed us.”

Sunday’s result echoes that of 2011, when the Greens experienced an increase in popularity in the wake of the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, and the SVP’s popularity slipped.

Yet the party, spearheaded by wealthy former Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, came back stronger than ever, clinching victory in a divisive 2014 anti-immigration plebiscite and recording its best-ever result in the 2015 parliamentary election.

The SVP has another anti-immigration measure in the pipeline, which could come up for a national vote in 2020.

SVP lawmaker Adrian Amstutz dismissed the Greens’ victory as “hype.”

“It’ll correct itself,” he said.

(Updates with results, background detail in second paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Catherine Bosley in Zurich at cbosley1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fergal O'Brien at fobrien@bloomberg.net, Jan Dahinten, Chris Reiter

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