Swiss nationalist party on track for election gains, projections say

Swiss nationalist party on track for election gains, projections say

A nationalist party riding fears about mass migration to Europe appears set to become the big winner in Swiss legislative elections, projections show, capping a shift to the right.

The anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party looks set to gain 11 seats and the pro-business Free Democratic Party another three in the lower house of parliament, the National Council, according to the latest figures from state-backed broadcaster RTS.

Together, the two leading parties of the right are set to hold 99 seats, one short of half control of the 200-seat assembly.

The result marks a shift from the success of moderate parties in the last election four years ago. The biggest parties of the left and centre have all lost ground, in particular two green parties, or held even.

The outcome giving the People’s Party nearly 30% surpassed poll predictions, while the Social Democrats, the country’s second-largest party, unexpectedly lost support.

Final results for the National Council are expected later. The make-up of the upper house, the 46-member Council of States, will be known in three weeks.

In Switzerland’s arcane electoral system, the outcome sets the stage for back-channel negotiations for the real prize: seats in the seven-person Federal Council, the executive branch, which makes decisions behind closed doors and by consensus, and includes the president, a rotating post.

The incoming assembly will choose that body’s make-up on December 9, and the People’s Party wants a second seat.

Under the Swiss political system, the People’s Party, already the country’s most popular political movement, holds one seat, while the Free Democrats and Social Democrats each have two.

The People’s Party is particularly after the seat now held by finance minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, who is from a far smaller, more moderate party that broke off from the nationalist party years ago.

“It’s important to listen to the Swiss people,” People’s Party leader Toni Brunner said. “The population has to be able to express itself.”

Before Sunday’s balloting, the gfs.bern polling agency found that nearly half of Swiss listed immigration, integration and foreigners as their top concern.

Issues like relations with the European Union, health care, unemployment and the environment scored only single digits as the top issue.

Those concerns about immigration are the sweet-spot issue of the Swiss People’s Party, which wants to strengthen rules about who can enter, including from EU member states that virtually surround the Alpine country of about 8.2m people and are by far the most important trading partner of Switzerland.

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