Fringe parties are mainstream in Swiss politics
ZURICH - When Matthias Pohm formed his new Swiss political party, he was determined to reach out to what he considered an underrepresented group. So in May, he created the Anti PowerPoint Party, whose stated mission is to advocate for those souls “who, every month, are obliged to be present during boring presentations in companies, universities, or at other institutions, and who had up to now no representation in politics.’’
People are thinking, “This is a waste of my time,’’ Pohm said of those presentations, which he described with an expletive. His party made it onto the ballot for Switzerland’s national parliamentary elections, which will be held next Sunday. “They needed a leader.’’
Single-issue political parties on the fringe seem to be gaining popularity these days; the Pirate Party, for example, which concerns itself with Internet freedom, won 8.9 percent of the vote in recent elections in Berlin.
But Switzerland, which may be the world’s most direct democracy, takes fringiness to a new level. Here, any citizen over the age of 18 can start a political party. To get on the ballot for Parliament’s lower house, all a party needs are 100- to-400 voter signatures, depending on the size of the canton, or state.
Thanks to this low threshold and an open, pluralistic political system, Switzerland has a tradition of colorful splinter parties, usually based in the larger, more urban cantons of Zurich and Bern. (A classic is the Auto Party, organized in 1985 to raise speed limits and limit traffic fines.)
While the Auto Party made it to Parliament, most splinter groups have next to no chance of winning. Still, they reflect “the will of people to actively participate in the election process,’’ Mark Stucki, spokesman for the Swiss parliamentary services, wrote in an e-mail.
Take Thomas Marki, a 43-year-old insurance broker who was disturbed by the cows he saw penned up on a farm he passed every day on the way to work. “I started to do some research, and I saw that the laws about treatment of animals are not well enforced,’’ he said. In July 2010, he created the Animals’ Party Switzerland “to give animals a voice in politics.’’
For a political newcomer, navigating the bureaucracy to, say, determine when it is legal to hang billboards has been hard, he said. But with 27 Animals’ Party candidates on ballots in four cantons, Marki plans to keep working even if they do not win anything this time around.
Alfredo E. Stussi, president of Subitas (formerly the Men’s Party), is equally committed to his cause: equal rights for men. Stussi, who was unable to see his daughter for many years after separating from her mother, said Subitas got on the national ballot this year thanks to some creative thinking. “Somebody said, ‘Why don’t you go to a soccer game?’ We did, and that’s where we got 70 percent of our signatures.’’
Something like the Anti PowerPoint Party “is the price of democracy,’’ said Christoph Pfluger, a journalist and magazine publisher who cofounded parteifrei.ch (Party-Free Switzerland) three months ago, for people who have no use for party politics. (“It was very easy,’’ he said. “We had the idea, sent out cards for membership, and posted it on the Internet.’’)
But others are generally critical of the splinter phenomenon. “These parties are usually gone six months after the election. They reflect a mood,’’ said Claude Longchamp, a political scientist and pollster based in Bern. “I am so against them because for the voters, they make things really complicated.’’