Anti-asylum extremists set to top Swiss poll

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The Independent Online

The nationalist Swiss People's Party, which mounted an anti-foreigner campaign, look-ed set to win the largest share of the vote in the country's general elections last night, according to projections by Swiss television.

The People's Party received 27.2 per cent of the vote, according to projections made on the basis of returns seven hours after polls closed. The centre-left Social Democrats had 23.3 per cent.

Exit polls gave the nationalist party an additional 12 seats in the 200-member lower House of Representatives, taking its total to 56. The result also gave the Swiss People's Party considerable added leverage under the Swiss "magic formula" of consensus politics to demand a second cabinet seat. "We need a second [cabinet] seat and our second candidate would be Blocher," Ueli Maurer, the party president, told Swiss television.

The anti-foreigner campaign by the right-wing, led by the Swiss-German businessman Christoph Blocher, was condemned by the Geneva-based United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as "amongst the most blatantly anti-asylum'' in Europe last week. In newspaper advertisements, the People's Party had suggested that "criminal asylum-seekers'' were grabbing the country's homes, jobs and welfare. Ron Redmond, a UNHCR spokesman, said the party had deliberately used the term "asylum-seeker'' alongside words such as terrorist, criminal, rape, disease, fraud and "bogus''.

The People's Party, which was originally a relatively small group based in the east, has held a single seat in Switzerland's Cabinet since a power-sharing deal was agreed in 1959. The Social Democrats, the centrist Free Democrats and centre-right Christian Democrats have held two seats each.

But it will be hard for the Swiss government to ignore the People's Party's gains, which have been exponential in the populous German part of the country since 1999.

The party has recently had a growing impact on Swiss politics. Last year, it put to referendum a proposal to automatically refuse asylum to refugees arriving in Switzerland via another safe country. Only after condemnations by the UNHCR and intense lobbying by the other parties did Swiss voters narrowly reject the proposal. The UNHCR may find it uncomfortable to be based in a country whose government's refugee policies it condemns.

A second Cabinet seat for the party ­ which is not a foregone conclusion since the make-up of the top tier of government will be decided by committee in early December ­ would further divide the country. French and Italian-speaking

Swiss cantons are traditionally more moderate the German-speaking cantonsbutare considerably less populated.

The party opposed Switzerland joining the United Nations and has rejected calls by other coalition parties to join the European Union.