Swiss Anti-Immigrant Party Secures Second Seat in Government

  • SVP regains second seat for first time in eight years
  • Ministries in 7-member body to be allocated in the coming days

The Swiss People’s Party capitalized on its strong election showing to take a second seat in Switzerland’s seven-member government, giving a bigger platform to push its anti-immigration agenda.

Lawmakers elected Guy Parmelin, 56, in the third round of voting in the joint session of both houses of parliament in Bern on Wednesday. He beat Thomas Aeschi and Norman Gobbi, also from the Swiss People’s Party, or SVP as it is known in German. The other six ministers -- one from the SVP, two from the Social Democrats, two from the Free Democrats and one from the Christian Democrats -- all were reelected.

The popularity of the anti-foreigner, fiscally conservative SVP underlines public anxiety over increased immigration to Switzerland. The SVP won its best results ever in October’s general elections, a success mirrored by rising support for similar parties across Europe, most recently the National Front’s showing in the first round of France’s regional elections on Sunday.

The SVP hasn’t had two members of government since 2008, when Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf was expelled from the party after being elected minister without its consent.
While Widmer-Schlumpf’s retirement means that the Finance Ministry post is currently vacant, Parmelin won’t necessarily take over that department. Switches after elections aren’t unusual and the allocation of ministries will be announced in the coming days.

Because Switzerland’s government is consensus-based, a new minister won’t necessarily translate into a new course of action. Additionally, the Swiss system of popular initiatives, which allows voters to have a direct say on topics from taxation to immigration to executive pay, means that the government stance regularly is determined by plebiscites.

The Swiss People’s Party has been increasing its vote share at the expense of the Free Democrats and Christian Democrats by feeding concerns about the share of foreigners in the nation of 8.2 million. The party has also spearheaded referendums to ban the construction of mosque minarets and to expel foreigners convicted of serious crimes.

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