Switzerland's cosy, complacent, consensual form of government got a nasty shock in Sunday's parliamentary elections when the far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP) won eleven extra seats in the lower house of parliament. The main planks of the SVP's platform were opposition to membership of the European Union and curbs on immigration and the rights of immigrants. These policies, together with an unpleasantly racist campaign, won the SVP almost 30 per cent of the vote - the largest share of any of the parties - and took its total of MPs in the 200-member parliament to 55.

For forty years Swizerland has been ruled by governments made up of representatives of the four main parties whose policies ranged from moderate right to moderate left with two Centrist parties. The People's Party came on the scene only seven years ago and gave right-wing politics in Switzerland a sharper edge; it won enough seats to give it one place in the seven-member government cabinet and now its leader will be asking for a second place.

How the Swiss manage their affairs is, of course, their own business but shock waves from this election will be felt in several other European countries where there are nascent far-right parties which capitalise on resentment towards immigrants. In Britain the British National Party has so far been able to win seats only in local elections in constituencies where the scale of immigration has caused particular problems. In France, however, Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National is a potent force which is being given new energy under the direction of Le Pen's daughter Marine.

On reflection the Swiss may regret that they have given more power to a party which ran what some observers have called the most anti-asylum campaign ever witnessed in Europe.


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