Swiss anti-immigration party seeks historic share of vote

By Caroline Copley, Reuters

ZURICH — A right-wing Swiss party that wants to limit the number of immigrants is hoping to win an historic 30-percent share of the votes in an election on Sunday, which could bolster its case for greater representation in the government. Sunday’s election is for 200 seats in the lower house of parliament and 45 of the 46 seats in the upper house. The outcome influences the parties’ bargaining power when the seven-seat, multi-party cabinet is selected by parliament on Dec. 14. The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) on track to scoop 29.3 percent, slightly more than its record performance in 2007, after tapping into growing fears that immigration could hurt the Alpine country’s high standard of living. It has plastered towns and cities with posters showing black feet storming over the Swiss flag with the slogan: “Now is enough! Stop mass immigration.”

Despite Switzerland’s comparatively low unemployment rate of 2.8 percent, the party has struck a chord with voters who fear a financial crisis in the eurozone could threaten jobs and lead to wage pressure. Foreigners, who make up some 22 percent of the 7.9 million population, have been blamed for rising rents, crowded public transport and even higher electricity bills. The SVP’s nearest rivals, the Social Democrats (SP), are forecast to increase their share of the vote to 19.9 percent. Preliminary results showed a shift towards new smaller parties like the Green Liberal Party (GLP) and the Conservative Democrats (BDP) from the traditional centrist parties. “The Green Liberal Party will get stronger. The two new small parties are attractive for voters,” Claude Longchamp from polling institute GFS Bern told Swiss television. Environmental parties have made gains due to waning public confidence in nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster. “We need more solidarity than ever before because people are living in a financial crisis, so I think (people) should vote for an open and ecological Switzerland,” Henriette Stebner told Reuters TV as she cast her vote in Geneva. Polling stations closed at midday on Sunday and national results are expected at 7:00 p.m. local time (1700 GMT).