Social Democrats Make Biggest Gains in Elections
BERN, Switzerland (AP) _ Swiss voters sent two messages to the ruling government: They are concerned about European unity, and they are divided on what to do about it.
The two big winners in national parliamentary elections Sunday were the Swiss People’s Party, which advocates adhering to Switzerland’s tradition of neutrality, and the Social Democrats, who say that formula is outmoded in a rapidly changing Europe.
The outcome sets the scene for wrangling over whether the Alpine nation should throw its weight behind continental integration or continue in its splendid isolation.
The European issue was the top theme in an election campaign that also included ``high″ unemployment of 4.0 percent, the sluggish economy, drug problems and the environment.
Final results were expected today. The outcome will not prompt any change in government in one of the world’s most politically stable countries. The four-party coalition that has ruled since 1959 will continue to hold office under what the Swiss call their ``magic formula″ consensus.
Returns from the majority of states and television projections showed the left-of-center Social Democrats made unexpectedly high gains to become the biggest faction in the coalition for the first time in 20 years.
They were set to gain about 12 seats to boost their share in the 200-seat National Council, or lower house, to 53 seats. Most of the gains were in urban areas and many were at the expense of the Greens.
``What’s important in the next four years is that ... we at some stage finally make the opening toward Europe,″ said Social Democrat chairman Peter Bodenmann.
Even with the Socialist gains, the government is unlikely to force through a decision on Europe. It is still stinging from a 1992 referendum in which a slim majority rejected its advice and said ``no″ to a lucrative European free trade area.
The Swiss People’s Party declared victory as well after indications it would get 30 seats, five more than in 1991 and the party’s best result in more than 60 years.
Christoph Blocher, a millionaire industrialist who heads the party, maintained that his campaign had delayed a decision to apply for European Union membership until the next century.
``I’m more than happy with the outcome,″ he said.
Of the remaining coalition parties, the centrist Christian Democrats lost some ground, while the Radical Democrats did better than expected. Together they were expected to hold about 80 seats.
The parties outside the governing coalition fared the worst. The Greens suffered the biggest losses, while extreme right-wing parties that had advanced in the 1991 elections were stopped.
Turnout appeared to be low, but final figures were not available.