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Europe

Finance minister elected to cabinet presidency

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-12-14

Swiss MPs on Wednesday elected Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf (pictured) to preside over the country’s cabinet, even though her party is too small to be entitled to a ministerial portfolio according to a decades-old power-sharing consensus.

REUTERS - Switzerland's finance minister was re-elected to the cabinet on Wednesday after parliament ignored a 52-year-old power-sharing convention to weaken the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP).

Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, finance minister since 2010, was re-elected to the seven-member government by winning 131 of a possible 245 votes, beating Hansjoerg Walter and Jean-Francois Rime of the SVP.

To overcome its political, linguistic and religious divisions, Switzerland established a "magic formula" in 1959 which entitled the three biggest parties to two seats each in the cabinet, while the fourth largest got one.

Widmer-Schlumpf's Christian Democrats (BDP) came only seventh in October's parliamentary election. The anti-immigration SVP remained Switzerland's biggest party although its share of the vote slipped for the first time in 20 years.

SVP Defence Minister Ueli Maurer was re-elected but the party failed to win a second seat and SVP President Toni Brunner said party members would discuss whether to pull out of the government next month.

Switzerland's "concordance" system of government relies on ministers from different parties working together to find compromise solutions and has made the country a political and financial safe haven.

Caspar Baader, SVP parliamentary leader, said Widmer-Schlumpf's election had broken "concordance".

"Such a system change leads to an unstable relationship in our direct democracy," he told parliament.

Lawmakers were reluctant to unseat the popular Widmer-Schlumpf who has presided over healthy government finances despite the economic crisis and the soaring Swiss franc.

In her previous role as justice minister, she had played a key role in sealing a deal to end a tax dispute between the United States and the country's biggest bank UBS in 2009.

SVP in turmoil

But she is regarded as a traitor in the SVP. She was kicked out of the party for helping remove firebrand leader Christoph Blocher from the cabinet in 2007.

The SVP has won recent referendums to expel criminal foreigners and ban the construction of new minarets, but its divisive rhetoric goes against the Swiss tradition of compromise-building and has isolated it in parliament.

Blocher is credited with transforming the SVP from a small, rural party to a conservative grouping with national appeal, but the party has lost support as voters tire of its anti-immigration rhetoric.

The party's bid for two seats was not helped when Bruno Zuppiger, one of its cabinet candidates, was forced to withdraw after allegations of financial misconduct.

Parliament also re-elected Energy Minister Doris Leuthard from the centre-right Christian Democrats, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga from the centre-left Social Democrats, and Interior Minister Didier Burkhalter and Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann from the liberal Free Democrats.

Social Democrat Alain Berset was elected to replace outgoing long-serving Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey.

Date created : 2011-12-14

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