Towards a victory for the anti-EU populist right in the Swiss legislative elections

The Swiss populist right, anti-immigration and anti-EU, should win the legislative elections on Sunday, in a context of European migration crisis and rising fears linked to the risks of attacks in Europe, according to polls.

Polling stations only open for two or three hours in the morning because the vast majority of Swiss vote by post. A first projection of the results in percentages is expected at 4:00 p.m. (2:00 p.m. GMT).

The small Alpine country, which has some 8.8 million inhabitants, renews its 200 deputies of the National Council (lower house) by proportional vote, and its 46 senators of the Council of States (upper house) by majority vote.

The composition of the upper house – under the control of the liberal right and the center – hardly varies over the elections. In the lower house, the hard-right party UDC (Democratic Union of the Center) should, according to polls, consolidate its place as the leading political force to the detriment of the liberal-radicals (PLR), while the Greens should cede ground to the socialists (PS).

Session of the Swiss Parliament, September 29, 2023 in Bern
Session of the Swiss Parliament, September 29, 2023 in Bern AFP Fabrice COFFRINI
These elections come after two recent Islamist attacks in Europe, first in Arras, France, then in Brussels.

According to Sean Müller, professor at the Institute of Political Studies at the University of Lausanne, these events should not have a major impact on the elections because many Swiss have already voted or know very well who to vote for.

“I also don’t think that many of the undecided or those who did not intend to vote will vote UDC or PLR because of these attacks, because as a neutral country, we still consider ourselves sheltered from the terrorism,” he told AFP.

Get closer to 30%

The UDC also campaigned around the defense of the “strict neutrality” of Switzerland, which is not part of the European Union, strongly criticizing Bern’s alignment with the sanctions taken by the EU after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

But the party focused its campaign around its favorite theme, the fight against “mass immigration” of foreigners, which it accuses of being at the origin of many problems, such as crime, the explosion social costs or even the increase in electricity consumption.

The speech of the UDC – the leading party since 1999 – continues to seduce, even if the Swiss remain among the richest in the world, with an unemployment rate of around 2% and a very high GDP per capita, while the circles economics report a labor shortage.

“It is true that four years ago, we recorded a decline”, but “we want to recover 100,000 voters, to get closer to 30%”, a threshold never crossed, the president of the UDC Marco Chiesa in a recent interview.

But the party’s slogans, against migrants but also against in particular “woke+ madness”, are increasingly criticized: it is accused of flirting with the extreme right and the Federal Commission against Racism has taxed its campaign election on social networks as “xenophobic”.

These criticisms do not frighten the UDC.

“Drag queens, antifas and climate activists are all going to vote! At the polls, they could ruin Switzerland and our society. We won’t let them!” launched the Young UDC section this week.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Greens and Vert’liberals should not repeat their 2019 electoral surge, but retreat.

The climate remains one of the main concerns of the Swiss but the Covid-19 pandemic has put a stop to the green wave.

Purchasing power, impacted by inflation but especially by soaring health insurance contributions, also stole the limelight from the climate during the campaign.

The socialists hope to capitalize on these social issues, calling in particular for a reform of health insurance to index contributions to income.

But once again, the big winner of the elections should be the party of abstainers, which is around 45%.

Parliamentarians will then designate on December 13 the seven members of the Federal Council (government), within which the first four parties share the seven ministerial portfolios. The Greens have little chance of obtaining their first seat there based on the polls.

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