Monday, 19 October 2015

My thoughts on the Swiss Federal Election of 2015

The Swiss Federal election of 2015, which was held yesterday, showed two disappointments significant to me. One was a shift to the right, the other was the loss of support both of Switzerland's green parties have received.

Both the Greens and Green Liberals lost support, despite some earlier polls showing the Green Liberals gaining seats at the expense of the Greens; the Greens went from 15 to 11 seats and the Green Liberals went from 12 seats to just 7. In fact the Swiss Greens co-leader Adele Thorens lost her own seat in the French-speaking canton of Vaud. Given that the Swiss are strong on environmental initiatives despite famously staying apart from the EU, this is rather worrying in my opinion-in fact, the first ever Green parliamentarian in any national legislature was elected in Switzerland, back in 1979 when at the same time our own Ecology Party was just establishing itself as a long-term (if initially minor) force in British politics.

Meanwhile, possibly due to higher campaign spending and concentrating more resources in the smaller, rural/semi-rural cantons which have fewer seats (the three cantons of Zurich, Bern, and Geneva alone have 71 seats between them, or 35.5% of all parliamentary seats in Switzerland) or in some cases just one, the right-wing Swiss People's Party gained 11 seats, although five of their own incumbents were defeated and the SVP has by a large margin the lowest proportion of female members in the Swiss Parliament relative to its representation. By contrast, the Swiss Greens were the only major party in Switzerland to have a majority of female candidates (52%, up from 49% in 2011), and the Greens, Green Liberals, and Social Democrats had strong proportions of female MPs. I believe there was a shift to the right overall, with the Social Democrats losing 3 seats and the Free Democrats gaining 3; although the Christian Democrats and Conservative People's Party incurred a small net loss in seat numbers, there are enough MPs who represent socially conservative centre-right or right-wing parties to form a government (65 SVP+28 CVP+7 BDP).

There were a few good things in this Swiss election from my point of view nonetheless. One was the return of the Alternative Left List via the canton of Neuchatel, the other was the better representation of women in the Swiss Parliament than ever before, with 64 women elected. This is a particularly important issue, because Switzerland was one of the last nations in Europe to grant female suffrage for federal elections, doing so in 1971. (An earlier referendum on women's suffrage in Switzerland in 1959 was substantially defeated by a 2-1 margin, ironically by means of direct democracy; direct democracy is one of the things I like about Swiss politics) Even with proportional representation, the percentage of female MPs in Switzerland is still poor by European standards (and only 36th in the world), and not much better than Britain whose first past the post system alone bears significant responsibility for failing to make sure women have fair representation in Parliament.

Another feature of Swiss politics I like is its cantonal system of proportional representation, representing actual communities rather than districts drawn simply for convenience or gerrymandering. I believe representation by counties in Britain, although preferably by STV and not list PR, could also work as long as there was a fairer distribution of seats (meaning for example that there would have to be separate Inner London and Outer London multi-member constituencies, in the same way that Finland has Helsinki City and Helsinki Outer districts for its elections).


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