GENEVA (AFP) — Switzerland's far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP) shrugged off charges of racism to register the best election showing of any single party in nearly a century, preliminary results showed Monday.
Traditional forces on the Swiss political landscape, the Socialists suffered what the Tages Anzeiger newspaper labelled a "historic thrashing," while the business-friendly Radicals crumbled and the Greens surged to an influential position in parliament after Sunday's vote.
The SVP, already the country's largest party, won 29 percent of the vote and 62 seats in the 200 seat lower house, the National Council, gaining seven seats over 2003, according to the Swiss statistical office.
"It's the strongest score of any party" since 1919, political scientist Hans Hirter told AFP.
The daily Le Matin dubbed the result a "triumph" for the SVP and the architect of its shift to the right over the past two decades, Justice Minister Christoph Blocher.
The establishment Neue Zuercher Zeitung, however, warned of "increasing polarisation" in Switzerland.
In the absence of an outright majority for any group, power in Switzerland is shared by the four strongest parties in parliament, which have formed the government since 1959.
"It'll still be about forming coalitions," Hirter underlined.
The SVP's aggressive campaign targeting immigration and foreign criminals included a poster featuring a black sheep being kicked out by white ones.
The tone sparked sharp criticism abroad and fears that Switzerland's pristine, consensual image would be tarnished.
"We corrected the left's mistakes, that's state debt and crime levels among foreigners," said outgoing SVP parliamentarian Toni Bortoluzzi.
The Socialists, with 19.5 percent of the vote, lost nine seats, leaving them with 43, while the Radicals slumped to a record low of 15.6 percent, shedding five seats to 31.
The centre-right Christian Democrats (14.6 pct), the junior partner in the four-party government, gained three seats to reach 31, the preliminary results showed.
With a combined 11 percent of the vote, the Green movement surged to a total of 23 seats in the lower house, just behind the four governing parties.
The Green Party also gained its first seat ever in the senate, although most of the seats in that chamber still have to be decided in a second round of voting.
A spate of landslides and floods in recent years, and snow shortages at economically important winter resorts helped propel climate change to the top of the election agenda, along with the People's Party's key topic, immigration, opinion polls showed.
Green Party Vice President Ueli Leuenberger said: "Two or three years ago people made fun of us, now the scientific community is endorsing what we said."
During the campaign, the SVP's sheep poster drew accusations of racism from a United Nations expert, who called for it to be withdrawn.
"The SVP is a xenophobic and populist party," Leuenberger said.
Geneva Green Party councillor Alpha Drame, originally from Guinea, warned that Switzerland now has "the most xenophobic right-wing (party) in Europe."
The SVP has denied racism, while party members late Sunday distanced themselves from the extreme right.
Party president Ueli Maurer told Swiss television that the SVP was a "blend of (late Christian conservative leader) Franz-Josef Strauss in Germany and Margaret Thatcher in England."
Socialist parliamentarian Liliane Maury Pasquier said the SVP had profited from fears about globalisation and perceptions of growing social insecurity.
"The SVP dresses all this up in xenophobic and anti-European colours. People think they are defending themselves by voting for the SVP," she told AFP.
The results triggered renewed bargaining to reshuffle the four-party government, ahead of a vote by the new parliament on December 12 to elect the seven members of the prime minister-less Federal Council.
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