Anti-migrant party sweeps to victory in Swiss polls

ZURICH • The anti-immigration Swiss People's Party (SVP) won the biggest share of the vote in Switzerland's parliamentary election, keeping pressure on Bern to introduce quotas on people moving from the European Union.

SVP's success on Sunday, coupled with gains made by the pro-business Liberal Party, led political commentators to talk of a "Rechtsrutsch" or a "slide to the right" in Swiss politics.

Immigration was the central topic for voters amid the rush of asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe.

"The vote was clear," SVP leader Toni Brunner told Swiss television. "The people are worried about mass migration to Europe."

The result cemented SVP's position as the dominant force in Swiss politics. It won 29.4 per cent of the vote, according to the final tally from Swiss broadcaster SRF, up from 26.6 per cent in the 2011 vote and far exceeding expectations.

This translated to 11 more seats in the Lower House of Parliament, taking its tally to 65, the highest for any party since the chamber's membership rose to 200 in 1963. It was the best performance by a party in at least a century.

The gains for SVP, which was already Switzerland's biggest single party, come 20 months after the Swiss, in a referendum, backed limits on foreigners living in the country. SVP had strongly supported the restriction, even though Switzerland is handling far fewer migrants than some other nations, such as Germany, in Europe's current refugee crisis.

Lawmakers have until 2017 to reconcile the referendum result with an EU pact that guarantees the free movement of workers, otherwise the Swiss government must write quotas into law regardless of any compromise with the EU.

The gains should also keep pressure on Bern to take a hard line with Brussels as it seeks to implement the immigration referendum.

The left-leaning Social Democrats finished in second place. Their share of the vote rose 0.1 percentage point to 18.9 per cent but they were set to lose three seats, according to SRF.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2015, with the headline 'Anti-migrant party sweeps to victory in Swiss polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe