Swiss vote in parliamentary polls as migration dominates agenda

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Voting was under way Sunday in Switzerland’s parliamentary elections with polls indicating a tilt to the right as voters see immigration as their biggest concern.

While Switzerland has not become a major destination for the thousands of refugees and migrants entering Europe each day, there has been a growing sense of unease about rising immigration in recent years.

Immigrants will make up half of Switzerland’s population by 2030, the nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) warned in one of its campaign newsletters ahead of the elections.

Pollsters say that the SVP, the country’s strongest party, is expected to get 28 per cent of votes, up from 26.6 per cent of votes in the 2011 election.

However, Switzerland’s complex consensus-oriented political system will prevent the SVP from taking over the government.

Voters see immigration as the most pressing policy problem and the SVP as the most competent party to tackle the issue, according to the polling institute gfs.bern.

“In the past 20 years, expectations have never been so focused on a single issue in an election campaign as in this one,” the pollsters said.

Nearly a quarter of the 8 million inhabitants hold a foreign passport, most often from a European country.

This is where the right-of-centre Liberals come in, as the second party that is expected to gain support.

The most recent surveys predict 16.7 per cent for the Liberals – an increase of 1.6 percentage points.

Last year, a majority of voters backed the SVP’s anti-immigration referendum that has soured Swiss-EU relations, but they do not follow the nationalists’ anti-Brussels agenda.

A large share of citizens favour the Liberals’ more moderate plan to curb the influx of migrants while trying to maintain ties with the European Union, which are key for the Swiss economy.

In contrast to the SVP and the Liberals, the camps of the centrist and the left-leaning parties are expected to shrink, even though debates over welfare cuts, pensions and the slight rise in joblessness have resonated with voters.

Despite the expected shift to the right, the government will not look much different after the election.

In contrast with other countries, cabinet posts are divided between the biggest parties according to a pre-defined ratio.

The SVP has had only one seat since a small offshoot party took its other one, while the Liberals have two ministerial posts.

Although a president is elected among cabinet members each year, all of them have equal weight in the government.

When parliament elects the new cabinet in early December, the SVP aims to expand to two seats.

A total of 245 parliamentary seats are up for grabs, 200 in the lower chamber and the rest in the upper chamber.

First results from the smaller of the 26 cantons are expected in the afternoon, with final results after midnight.

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