Switzerland votes amid immigrant, EU debt fears

In all, 246 seats are up for election, including 200 for the lower chamber and the remaining for the upper chamber.

Last Updated: Oct 23, 2011, 22:10 PM IST

Geneva: Switzerland voted on Sunday for a new
parliament, with the already dominant far-right SVP hoping to
benefit from fears over the eurozone debt crisis as well as
its anti-immigration platform.

In all, 246 seats are up for election, including 200 for
the lower chamber and the remaining for the upper chamber.

Polls closed at noon after voting began in some parts of the
country yesterday.

Analysts do not expect the polls to lead to a major shift
in the parliamentary balance, but they believe that a key
issue will be whether the SVP manages to improve on its 2007
score of 28.8 per cent.

Although it is the largest party in parliament, the SVP
has been locked out of power by rivals fiercely opposed to its
political platform.

"An important issue at stake is whether the SVP will
manage to maintain its 2007 score or improve it," said Pascal
Sciarini, a political analyst.

"It`s a very important point because it would mark the
first time that a party has surpassed the 30 per cent mark in
Switzerland, which has not been the case since 1919," he
added.

With an unemployment rate of just 2.8 per cent and
healthy public finances and output figures, the alpine state
is an island of prosperity in Europe.

While Swiss economic indicators look solid, the country`s
export-led industry has seen its earnings sharply reduced in
recent quarters as the franc strengthened dramatically against
the euro and US dollar.

The Swiss National Bank has since fixed a floor of 1.20
francs against the euro, but exporters are calling for more
action.
As earnings come under pressure, some companies have
instituted regimes such as longer working hours for less pay,
or even cut jobs, all of which have contributed to the
atmosphere of uncertainty.

With the uncertain climate, the SVP has sought to win
votes through aggressive campaign claiming that the "mass
immigration" of foreigners was taking away Swiss jobs, or that
they were here to claim social benefits.

Unlike the 2007 elections, however, this year`s polls
have been without much controversy.

During the previous polls, the SVP sparked an outcry with
its posters of three white sheep kicking a black sheep off the
Swiss flag led the UN anti-racism expert to call for the
withdrawal of the posters.

This year, it has opted for an image of a crowd marching
across the Swiss flag, with the slogan: "That`s enough. Stop
mass immigration."

PTI