What Do Elections Tell Us About Switzerland and the U.S.?


The Swiss Parliament has just chosen the country's seven Federal Councilors. The United States' Grand Electors will be voting for the President of the United States in the autumn. (The similarities in the two processes show how the Constitution of Switzerland mirrors the U.S. Constitution and how both countries shy away from having the citizens directly choose their leaders.) Beside the technical, electoral process, what is also fascinating is how fundamentally conservative are both electors. The center-right almost always wins national elections.

The People's Party is the largest party in Switzerland, although its showing in the last Parliamentary elections was below its previous score and its technical leader, Toni Brunner, as well as its spiritual leader, Christoph Blocher, have been defeated in recent elections. The rise of the People's Party, much like the rise of the MCG in Geneva, represents a recurrent phenomenon of populism that has not been shown to be sustainable over the long run. The People's Party demanded two seats in Federal Council; they only received one. Just as Christoph Blocher was not re-elected as a Federal Councilor in 2007, this time the Parliament again rejected the extreme right-wing in favor of a consensual government.

In the United States, the Tea Party was the rage for a short period of time. People were fascinated with Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and the xenophobic rantings of a limited part of the U.S. population. Fringes are always exciting. Where are they now? The Republicans are desperately seeking a reasonable candidate without the dullness and Mormon baggage of Mitt Romney, somewhat like the late Senator Everett Dirksen or Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Newt Gingrich is an exotic figure, but not one who is electable by the majority of voters.

Campaigns are not the same as running a government. The media flocks to good stories and unusual candidates; the voters usually choose conservative figures in national elections. The lack of excitement in the recent Swiss voting and the rejection of the Tea Party by Americans are wonderful proof of the impressive dullness of functioning democracies.

December 19, 2011




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