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Backgrounds: Switzerland Political
Although it has a diverse society, Switzerland has a stable government. Most voters support the government in the armed neutrality underlying its foreign and defense policies. Domestic policy poses no major problems, but the changing international environment has generated a significant reexamination of Swiss policy in key areas such as defense, neutrality, and immigration. Quadrennial national elections typically produce only marginal changes in party representation.
In recent years, Switzerland has seen a gradual shift in the party landscape. The rightist Swiss People's Party (SVP), traditionally the junior partner in the four-party coalition government, more than doubled its voting share from 11% in 1987 to 22.5% in 1999, and finally to 26.6% in 2003, thus overtaking its three coalition partners. This shift in voting shares ended the 44-year old "magic formula," the power-broking agreement of the four coalition parties, and gave a second seat in the 7-person Swiss cabinet to the Swiss People's Party at the expense of the Christian Democrats, now the weakest party with 14.4% of the votes. For the first time in Swiss history, the SVP has two seats in the government, reflecting its new status as Switzerland's most popular party.
On December 10, 2003, Christoph Blocher -- a self-made industrialist and main figure of the right-populist Swiss People's Party known for his strong opinions on asylum and migration and law and order issues -- was elected to the cabinet by parliament, replacing the incumbent Christian Democrat Justice and Police Minister Ruth Metzler. The parliament also elected the Free Democrat Hans-Rudolf Merz to replace retiring Finance Minister Kaspar Villiger. All other incumbent ministers were reelected. Both Blocher and Merz are strong advocates of drastic public spending cuts in order to reduce the country's mounting $102 billion francs state deficit and are staunch opponents to Switzerland's entering the European Union. The current makeup of the government also portends a conservative fiscal policy, even less movement toward integration in Europe, and a strong defense of Switzerland's banking secrecy.
The Constitution limits federal influence in the formulation of domestic policy and emphasizes the roles of private enterprise and cantonal government. However, the Confederation has been compelled to enlarge its policymaking powers in recent years to cope with national problems such as education, agriculture, energy, environment, organized crime, and narcotics.
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