What are the Swiss election results and how will they affect expats?
On Sunday, Swiss citizens across the country went to the polls to choose the composition of the next parliament. With most preliminary results now in, here’s what you need to know about the federal elections in Switzerland and how expats and internationals will be affected by the results.
2023 Swiss federal elections result
At the federal elections, citizens vote for the composition of the National Council (the lower house of parliament) and the Council of States (the upper house). Elections in the 200-seat National Council are done by canton, with proportional representation used to elect a set number of representatives from each of the 26 regions. The one or two seats given to each canton in the Council of States are decided by majority or proportional representation.
Over 30 different political parties contested the elections this year, but only 10 parties won seats. Unlike in 2019, the Swiss Party of Labour and Solidarity failed to win seats in the National Council. While parties in parliament don’t have to form a government or coalition as is the case in other countries - instead, parties govern “in consensus” with each other - getting as many seats as possible is still important.
SVP gets the most votes at the elections in Switzerland
According to the latest projections, the federal election in 2023, like every federal election since 1999, will be won by the SVP with an increased vote share compared to 2019. The party won 28,6 percent of the vote, translating into approximately 62 seats in the National Council, an increase of nine seats.
Not so close behind were the SP, which also saw their vote share increase to 18 percent with 41 seats in the National Council (an increase of two). In what was the closest competition on the day, the Centre Party overtook FDP. The Liberals in the National Council, winning 29 seats (+1) to the FDP’s 28 (-1).
Swiss green parties see biggest losses in 2023
The biggest losers on the night were the Green Party and Green Liberal Party, losing five and six seats respectively. The Green Party now has 23 seats in the National Council, while the GLP has just 10.
After dominating the public discussion in the lead-up to the 2019 elections, and despite the repeated warning signs over the climate, recent polling has suggested that climate change is no longer considered the biggest problem faced by Switzerland. The result is likely to prove a major dent in the Green Party's hopes of getting a seat in the executive Federal Council.
Other parties that won seats in the National Council include the Geneva Citizens' Movement (2), Evangelical People's Party (2), Federal Democratic Union (2) and the Ticino League (1).
15 seats in the Council of States undecided
In terms of the Council of States, the Centre Party has won the most seats so far (10), followed by the FDP (9), SP (5), SVP (4) and the Greens (3). A winner was not selected in 15 different races across the cantons, so runoffs for each seat will be held in November.
Who are the Swiss People's Party (SVP)?
When we talk about the effect the Swiss elections have on those who can’t vote federally - expats and internationals - it’s necessary to talk about the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the winner of the election. Here's what internationals need to know about the SVP, and the party's attitudes towards migration.
SVP puts immigration and expats at centre of campaign
Titled “For a secure future in freedom”, the SVP’s manifesto for 2023 focused on the aim of preventing a “10 million Switzerland” via a referendum. “The Swiss economy has always relied on foreign workers. However, Switzerland has been experiencing difficulties since 2007 because of the uncontrolled immigration”, they wrote in their manifesto.
As the population has already reached 9 million people, the SVP’s pledge argues that the country “cannot afford” to reach the next milestone due to pressure on the social security system - despite studies that have found that expats pay more into the system than they get out, and are part of the solution to worsening worker shortages.
SVP criticised by Anti-Racism Commission
The SVP also took aim at the asylum system and immigration more generally through a series of Facebook posts referencing news stories where a non-Swiss person was accused or convicted of a heinous act or crime, with captions such as “Is this the new normal? if you want more security, vote for SVP… if you don’t want this [to happen], vote for SVP.”
The Federal Anti-Racism Commission criticised the SVP for their ads, arguing that they distorted reality and were “not only racist and xenophobic, but [are] inflammatory and deliberately stir up negative emotions.” “Nonetheless, this very clear discourse had a mobilising effect on the party's base at a time of international insecurity,” Swissinfo wrote.
SRF noted that recent events have played in the SVP’s favour. The outbreak of war in Israel and Gaza and the recent rise in asylum applications have made the party's promise of “freedom, security and safety” all the more appealing. In 2023, the party was able to recoup its losses from 2019, with a vote share that is close to its record electoral performance in 2015.
How will the SVP win impact expats in Switzerland?
In other countries around the world, winning the election usually means that the winning party is able to push through legislation that fits their electoral platform. With the SVP platform mostly geared towards anti-immigration policies, will their victory mean radical change for expats in Switzerland?
The answer is not really. It must be noted that the SVP has been the largest political party in the Swiss parliament since 1999. Therefore, despite the anti-expat, anti-immigration manifesto pledges, the party has been unable to enact most of its policy platform in recent years.
SVP wins, but is not the majority in parliament
Despite being the largest party in the National Council, the SVP is 39 seats short of a majority. This means that it will be unable to pass legislation without the cooperation of at least the SP or two of the other larger political parties, all of whom will demand concessions or revisions before any legislation is passed.
The SVP will also face major hurdles in the Council of States. Though many seats are yet to be decided, it is likely that the chamber will remain dominated by the Centre and FDP, with the SVP currently the fourth largest party. This will make it near-impossible for their platform to be enacted without support from other parties.
SVP will face the threat of referendum
What’s more, all changes to the Swiss constitution need to be approved by referendum, so much of the anti-immigration legislation that the SVP want to enact will have to face a public vote - the “10 million Switzerland” initiative is a good example.
With enough signatures, opposition parties can also force issues to referendum. This curtails the largest party’s ability to enact legislation by sending it back to the voting public, 71,4 percent of whom didn’t vote for the SVP. It’s also important to note that while turnout was higher than in 2019, only 47 percent of citizens chose to participate in the federal elections.
SVP will continue to dominate politics in Switzerland
However, what the SVP will be able to do is set the talking points and agenda for each parliamentary session. Thanks to their victory, it is likely that discussions of immigration and expats will remain part of the Swiss political cycle for years to come.
For a more detailed overview of the election results, please visit the official website.
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