The anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party (SVP) won the biggest share of the vote in Sunday’s national parliamentary election, initial projections showed, keeping pressure on Bern to introduce quotas on people moving from the European Union.
The result, based on initial projections by Swiss TV, gives the SVP 65 seats in the 200-member lower house of parliament, the largest number for any Swiss party in at least a century.
The SVP’s success, coupled with gains made by the pro-business Liberal Party (FDP), led political commentators to talk of a “Rechtsrutsch” — move to the right — in Swiss politics.
Immigration was the central topic for voters amid a rush of asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe.
“The vote was clear,” SVP leader Toni Brunner told Swiss television. “The people are worried about mass migration to Europe.”
Sunday’s result cements the position of the SVP as the dominant force in Swiss politics. It won 28 percent of the vote, translating into 11 extra seats, according to first projections from Swiss broadcaster SRF, up from 26.6 percent in the 2011 vote and roughly in line with expectations.
The election gains for the SVP, which was already the biggest single party in parliament, come 20 months after the Swiss in a referendum backed limits on foreigners living in Switzerland. The SVP had strongly supported the restrictions.
Lawmakers have until 2017 to reconcile this referendum result with an EU pact that guarantees the free movement of workers, otherwise the Swiss government must write quotas into law regardless of any compromise with the EU.
The Swiss system of direct democracy means citizens decide most major issues in referenda regardless of parliament’s makeup.
But the latest right-wing gains should keep pressure on Bern to take a hard line with Brussels as it seeks to implement the immigration referendum.
The left-leaning Social Democrats (SP) finished in second place and unexpectedly saw its share of the vote fall by 0.1 percentage points to 18.8 percent, according to the SRF projections.
The pro-business Liberal Party (FDP), Switzerland’s third largest party, saw its support edge up 1.3 percentage points and is expected to gain three extra seats, tilting parliament further to the right.
During the election campaign, the SVP rallied against Swiss reforms to deal with asylum seekers, even though in Europe’s current migrant crisis Switzerland is having to handle far fewer migrants than some other nations such as Germany.
With slogans like “Stay free!” the SVP has also played to fears that Switzerland may head towards EU membership, while also producing tongue-in-cheek YouTube music videos in a bid to appeal to younger voters.
Sunday’s result prompted calls from the right for greater representation in Switzerland’s seven-member governing council, the composition of which will be decided in December by parliament. The SVP and FDP currently have one seat each.
“I emphatically demand that the three biggest parties should each have two seats and the fourth biggest party has one,” Brunner said. “We’ve demanded this for years and for decades it was a recipe for success for Switzerland.”