Recently, Barack Obama announced the beginning of his campaign for the 2012 US Presidential election, 19 months before the election itself. Many in Switzerland were surprised that the announcement was made so early. People were also surprised when experts predicted that this would be the first campaign to cost over one billion dollars; Obama's 2008 campaign cost approximately $750 million, a record at the time.
The elections for communal executives in the Canton of Geneva are scheduled for April 17. Last Saturday I made some observations at the market in Carouge and Place de Molard, fascinated by the low-key aspects of the campaigns. I have participated in several political campaigns in the United States, and am always impressed by the Swiss system. Several people asked me to compare the two campaign styles and I will make some short observations, acutely aware of differences in size and my lack of professional expertise here.
A great deal of time and energy is spent on discussing the political parties positioning and alliances. The situation in Vernier seems to be a flagrant example. However, much less time is spent talking about the competence of the candidates to direct certain departments. Since departments are chosen among the elected, it would make more sense to see how competent people direct specific departments. This is certainly true as well at the cantonal and national levels.
The actual division of departments also is intriguing to a foreigner. On the cantonal level, department titles and responsibilities change with the elections. Again, one would assume that departments are assigned logically. One would also assume that not all executives are competent to run all departments.
Although I presume there is complete transparency behind campaign funding, little attention seems to be given to making public where the money comes from. Elaborate signs on trams from one party may indicate more resources, although it is not necessary that more money spent will win an election.
The United States has two major parties and the differences are generally clear. The proliferation of parties here makes it difficult to fully comprehend what each party stands for. In addition, a party's position in one canton is not necessarily the same as in another.
Finally, the idea of a militia government means that executives have other jobs. Does that affect their decisions? There are ethical questions here that are not at all evident.
In general, I find the campaigning extremely low-key, with the population having easy access to the candidates. I find the public debates on television such as Leman Bleu and in the media somewhat helpful, but the level of discourse, like in so many other places, often strident and unnecessarily personal. I am often asked to explain the American electoral system here in Switzerland. Since there are many foreigners in Switzerland, it would be interesting to see if clear explanations of the voting system here were available to the large foreign population.
There is little polling before the vote so we will all watch if there are major surprises April 17. Because of extensive polling in the United States, there are few surprises.
April 11, 2011