'A tsunami': Green Party makes historic gains in Switzerland vote

Far-right Swiss People's Party remained in the lead but lost ground on environmental concerns.

    'A tsunami': Green Party makes historic gains in Switzerland vote
    Swiss People's Party (SVP) President Albert Rosti attends a TV debate during the general election in Switzerland''s capital Bern [Fabrice Coffrini/AFP]

    Switzerland's Green opposition parties gained significant voter shares in Sunday's national election, while the dominant anti-immigration People's Party lost some of its support.

    The elections moved politics to the left and put environmentalists in the mix for a seat in the broad coalition that has governed the country for decades.

    The far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP) remained in first place, according to projections after the parliamentary election, but like other big parties, it lost ground as environmentalist parties seized on voters' concerns about climate change to shake up the political establishment.

    "It is not a green wave, it is a tsunami, a hurricane," Celine Vara, deputy Greens leader who won a seat in the upper house of parliament for Neuchatel canton, told Swiss radio.

    Far from the sea, Switzerland is especially vulnerable to climate change as temperatures in the country are rising twice as quickly as the global average.

    "I think it is pretty obvious that it is the most important topic of all in our time and age. There is really not any time to lose," Anja, a 25-year-old psychology student, told Reuters news agency. 

    'Setback' 

    The SVP, which won a record number of seats in 2015 amid Europe's refugee crisis, slipped 3.6 points to 25.8 percent while the Greens' share surged 5.9 points to 13.0 percent of the vote for the lower house, according to a projection by gfs.bern, a research institute that closely monitors Switzerland's elections and referendums.

    University of Lausanne political scientist Oscar Mazzoleni told AFP news agency the results showed that the SVP struggled to attract young voters while its ageing electoral base was less motivated to vote than in 2015, when Europe's migrant crisis was on "page one".

    The SVP is also the only major party that has not pledged to pursue bolder climate action, having consistently denounced "climate hysteria" in Swiss politics.

    "We knew we were going to suffer a setback," outgoing SVP senator Oscar Freysinger told local media.

    "But the important point remains that before saving the planet we have to save Swiss sovereignty," he added.

    Aside from warning about the threats of immigration, the SVP has also built its brand by condemning the influence of the European Union in non-EU member Switzerland. 

    'Magic formula' 

    Under Switzerland's unique political system, the election decides the 200 lower house lawmakers and 46 senators elected to four-year terms. But the make-up of the executive Federal Council will not be decided until December.

    Under the so-called "magic formula" for power sharing, six cabinet seats are shared equally by the SVP, the Socialist Party and the right-leaning Free Democratic Party (PLR), with the centrist Christian Democrats holding the seventh seat.

    The presidency rotates each year.

    The Greens finished fourth, narrowly beating the Christian Democrats, but it remains unclear when they will join the cabinet.

    Sunday's results provided further evidence that a nation whose economy and lifestyle are closely tied to the country's stunning snow-capped peaks has grown increasingly concerned about the ravages of climate change.

    A recent study by Zurich's ETH university found that more than 90 percent of 4,000 glaciers dotted throughout the Alps could disappear by the year 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed. 

    SOURCE: News agencies