Swiss parliament shifts to right in vote dominated by migrant fears

Update: October, 19/2015 - 10:20

GENEVA — Swiss voters swung to the right in parliamentary elections on Sunday dominated by concerns over Europe's migrant crisis, with the country's largest party winning a record number of seats.

The populist Swiss People's Party (SVP), known for its virulent campaigns against immigration, the European Union and Islam, won 65 of the 200 seats in the lower house, up from the current 54, and saw its support rise to its highest-ever level.

The SVP was seen raking in 29.5 per cent of the vote, compared to the 26.6 per cent won in 2011 and beating its previous record score of 28.9 in 2007, the national broadcaster RTS projected.

Along with advances made by the centre-right Liberal Party, Switzerland's third-largest party, which took three additional seats on top of its current 30, SVP's gains should tip the scale in parliament from the centre-left towards a centre-right majority.

Pascal Sciarini, a political scientist at Geneva University, said, that the 11 additional seats for SVP marked "a huge shift in Swiss politics", adding that "the centre of gravity has clearly shifted to the right".

"SVP did not even need to run a campaign. The migrant crisis ran the campaign for them," Sciarini said.

The Socialists, the country's second-largest party, meanwhile lost three of their 46 seats and the Greens and Green Liberal Party lost a total of nine seats.

Overall voter turnout was set at 48 per cent.

Send a signal

The shift to the right comes as surging numbers of migrants and refugees moving through Europe have heightened the focus on the issue in Switzerland, even though the wealthy Alpine nation is yet to be significantly affected by the crisis.

"We have to make Europe less attractive and send a signal that we cannot give asylum here, not even to refugees of war," SVP chief Toni Brunner said.

Parties to the centre and left meanwhile lamented that the pre-election campaign had been so dominated by the migrant issue.

"People voted out of fear," Socialist candidate Rebecca Ruiz told RTS.

About a quarter of Switzerland's eight million inhabitants are foreign nationals, and immigration and asylum policies tend to figure among voters' top concerns.

But the latest survey from the gfs.bern polling institute showed that nearly 50 per cent of voters considered migration the most important issue facing the country.

"I think there is a lot at stake, not only when it comes to the reception of refugees, but also the entire problem of the large numbers on the move," Colette Morel, a 69-year-old retired teacher, said as she cast her ballot in the central canton of Fribourg. — AFP