On October 18th, the Swiss went to the polls to cast their votes in the country’s parliamentary elections. The right-wing triumphed as the Swiss Peoples’ Party, or the “SVP”, won 29.4% of the votes. It was described in the papers as “the best performance by a party in at least a century”. The Free Democratic Party (FDP) also won 16.4% of the votes. In terms of number of seats, the Swiss Right secured 14 new seats (11 from the SVP’s gains alone) to reach a total of 98 seats (65 for the SVP).
The political climate in Switzerland was strained and the electorate was concerned about the issue of immigration and the rush of asylum seekers to Europe, even though Switzerland has not seen a flow of refugees or migrants compared to others on the continent. The media described the voters as being motivated by fear, which is true to a certain extent, but it was also about securing their Swiss culture and its identity.
It also showed that the Swiss people don’t like centralization and understand that by voting for the SVP they are sending a clear statement to those political parties which still want to delegate Swiss sovereignty to the EU. The SVP’s slogan in their election campaign describes it best: “Stay Free!” Throughout their campaigns, the Right asserted the importance of identity, and that following EU decisions constitutes a violation of Swiss independence.
What does this mean for the Swiss?
The outcome of these elections should not come as a surprise. The public had previously voted in favor of a referendum to impose immigration quotas, a popular initiative that was spearheaded by the SVP. This is the second time that the Swiss have had their say on immigration, and have rejected EU measures on the matter. This makes it crystal clear that for the Swiss, their cultural identity is more important than any political relationship, even to the EU.
The outcome has nothing to do with xenophobia. For the past 100 years, 15% to 25% of the Swiss population has been foreigners, making us one of the countries in Europe with the highest share of foreigners. However, the Swiss also realized that 60% of the social welfare granted in our country is going to people who immigrated to Switzerland – and some Swiss believe they shouldn’t be subsidizing immigrants. Further leniency on matters of immigration and compliance with the EU’s wishes would risk the stable political and economic environment in which the Swiss are living, in addition to the social cohesion among the public.
The Swiss, however, are not only expressing their loyalty to their Swiss cultural identity in political venues. They are also seeking to codify this into law! The referendum on immigration and the last parliamentary elections illustrate that there is recurring tension between the laws and regulations of the EU and the laws and political will of the Swiss. They are now proposing an initiative to have Swiss law be of a higher order than international law, which constitutes an open challenge to the international courts. The Swiss message is loud and clear.
Is Switzerland moving toward the right? What does that mean?
It appears that the political orientation in Switzerland will shift from center-left to the Right. This is a major departure and implies a significant change in how politicians will manage this country. But what does this really mean? Why does this even make sense in connection to the election’s results?
My own interpretation of Left versus Right is that on the Left we have the totalitarian state. It can be socialist, fascist, communist, imperialistic, nationalist or a number of different combinations. I still have to remind people from time to time, especially when they call the Nazis right-wing-extremists, that in fact the Nazis were socialist. The more you move towards the Right, the more you believe in less state intervention, less progressive thinking and move towards more conservative, traditional values believing in more individual freedom.
To better explain this, we refer to the writings by libertarian theorist Hans-Hermann Hoppe. The Right recognizes that humans are different and diverse, whether mentally, intellectually or physically. Differences are not only what we are ‘born with’, but it also means differences in how we live, such as level of income, social status, property ownership, or even political influence. These differences should be accepted and respected. The Left, on the other hand, finds that there are no ‘natural’ differences between people. In other words, we are all equal. But according to Hoppe, we cannot be all equal. We are different in every sense. More importantly, it not only goes against the concept of private property, it is a cause of conflict in society. As Rothbard put it:
“Since no two people are uniform or ‘equal’ in any sense in nature, or in the outcomes of a voluntary society, to bring about and maintain such equality necessarily requires the permanent imposition of a power elite armed with devastating coercive power.”
What this means is that in order to ensure equality, you need a higher power that imposes it, even if this were to go against the respect for private ownership. How is this compatible with a free society? It is not compatible, argues Hoppe. In fact, it is unrealistic and “out of touch with reality”.
Let’s focus more closely on the main topic in these elections which is immigration. Where do the two sides stand on the issue? Hoppe explains that the Left is in favor of ‘free and non-discriminatory’ immigration, which is consistent with their belief that ‘we are all born equal’. The world belongs to all of us, with open frontiers and there should not be any restrictions. In contrast to the free access professed by the Left, the Right says: No one has the right to enter into my private property. Hoppe best explains this in the following passage:
“In a world where all places are privately owned, the immigration problem vanishes. There exists no right to immigration. There only exists the right to trade, buy or rent various places. Yet what about immigration in the real world with public property administered by local, regional or central State-governments?”
Immigration is not an entitlement, but is granted if allowed by the citizens of the country. So what would motivate a country like Switzerland not to open its borders? One reason is to protect the cohesion and stability of its society, which can be compromised with the constant entry of new immigrants and even lead to conflict.
Another factor is strictly financial: there are scarce resources and an increasing number of people. Not only does it mean that some will gain at the expense of others, but the general level of affluence and the economic standard of the country will be affected. What if we look at it in terms of the bigger picture and don’t limit this to Switzerland? If Europe opens its borders while maintaining its current welfare system, you can be sure that the continent will effectively collapse within a short period of time.
Swiss heads towards a more decentralized and conservative government
This great win for the Swiss Right represents added pressure on the political future of Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, particularly after her center-left BDP-Party only won 4.1% of the votes. She has been member of the Swiss Federal Council since 2008 and served as President of the Swiss Confederation in 2012. As Finance Minister, Widmer-Schlumpf was at the center of a number of high-profile topics, such as the 2008 bailout of UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, which was at risk of bankruptcy due to their overexposure to the U.S. subprime market, an action which the public criticized for being overstretched and unconstitutional.
She also gave in to international pressure to share bank account information regarding Americans. This was a dramatic departure from the Swiss tradition of banking secrecy, which was codified into law in 1934.
The 2015 elections were an opportunity for the public to express their disapproval of Widmer-Schlumpf. And so she believed that the only option she had was not stand for reelection in the cabinet, and instead to take a step back as the country settled for a new policy direction.
However, it is not entirely over. The October elections not only involved voting on the 200 seats in the National Council, or lower house of parliament, but the Swiss also voted for the 46-seat upper chamber or Council of States (at the time of this writing, the results of those votes were not announced yet. Nor were the results of a ballot in mid-December for members of Switzerland’s Federal Council, which arrives after negotiations between party members and a combined vote of the National Council and Council of States).
The Swiss direct democracy system topples the parliamentary system
The public has lost faith in statist and leftist policies. Instead, we expect to see a shift in the policy direction of the country, especially if the SVP and the FDP gain a majority in the Federal Council. Should that be the case, we can expect a change towards less statist and more conservative policies.
However, there is an interesting aspect that is worth mentioning. The voter turnout in these elections was about 48%, compared to 56% in the referendum on immigration in 2014. We are not downplaying the importance of the parliamentary vote, but we can infer that the Swiss are aware of the power of their vote in a referendum. The difference is that their vote is cast directly on the question at hand. The Swiss political system keeps electoral politicians under the scrutiny of the public. The citizen does not exclusively rely on his/her elected representative, but the citizen is entitled to put every law to a general vote.
Switzerland is a clear anomaly in our current world system that can be considered ‘progressivist’. Progressivists are liberals who argue for an expanded role of the government. But how are these two compatible? They were back in the 1800’s, when people believed that the government’s role was to protect individuals’ rights. However, progressivists later also added the task of ensuring the economic welfare of its citizens. The true outcome, however, was the reality that we live in today. People’s choices are now dictated by state’s wealth redistribution. The outcome of the elections is definitely a positive development for the country. It is also a sign that the people have grown more aware that leftist and statist policies have failed to work.
Yes, Switzerland is moving in the ‘Right’ direction!