'Racist' party secures record Swiss vote

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The Independent Online

The right-wing Swiss People's Party has won the most votes ever recorded in a general election in Switzerland after mounting a virulent anti-foreigner campaign widely denounced as racist.

The SVP, led by the controversial billionaire and Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, 67, won 29 per cent of the vote in Sunday's general election and seven extra seats in the national parliament.

The final result published yesterday by Switzerland's Federal Statistics Office firmly secured the controversial SVP's position as the largest party in the Swiss parliament. "We have reached the highest score in the history of Switzerland's present day electoral system," said Ueli Maurer, the SVP party president after the result.

Mr Blocher's populist campaign was dominated by the single issue of immigration. His party's election posters featured three white sheep standing on a red and white Swiss national flag kicking a black sheep out of the country. Alongside ran the slogan "More Security!"

The notorious posters, which were part of the party's campaign to deport foreign criminal offenders, were denounced as "openly racist" by the United Nations. They prompted widespread media criticism and sparked violent anti-SVP demonstrations in the Swiss capital Bern this month.

Sunday's election was a disaster for the left-of-centre Social Democrats, the country's second largest party which was accused of failing to offer voters a convincing alternative to Mr Blocher's nationalist anti-Europe and anti-foreigner brand of politics.

The Social Democrats' share of the vote dropped by four per cent losing the party nine seats in the national parliament. However the environmentalist Greens won an extra six seats and just fell short of securing 10 per cent of the vote.

Stunned by international criticism of the SVP's campaign, reaction to the party's sizeable electoral gains was muted yesterday. The leaders of the country's four main parties said they were committed to retaining the system of consensus politics which ensures that no party can obtain an absolute majority.

Surprisingly the poll resulted in the election of the first black member of the Swiss parliament: Ricardo Lumengo, a Social Democrat who was born in Angola, entered the country as an asylum seeker in the 1980s and subsequently became a Swiss citizen.

The SVP's campaign caused considerable unease in Switzerland's large immigrant community. Over twenty per cent of the country's population is made up of foreigners. However the anti-foreigner rhetoric clearly appealed to voters, particularly in Switzerland's rural districts.

Mr Blocher, who led a campaign to keep Switzerland out of the European Union in 1992, denied that the posters were racist. His party claimed to have collected more than 200,000 signatures in support of deporting criminal foreigners from the country. The party also wants to enforce a ban on the building of minarets.

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