Swiss gov’t elections underway: two women are first councilors re-elected (update 2)

Economy minister Johann Schneider-Ammann re-elected
UDC now fighting for Calmy-Rey’s seat, its last chance to add a party member to the council

Doris Leuthard, first Swiss gov't member re-elected, by large majority, 14 December 2011

11:30  BERN, SWITZERLAND – The last of 7 seats on the federal council is the focus of a tough fight between the Socialists and UDC parties, with the UDC arguing that Switzerland’s balance of power calls for its candidate, Jean-François Rime, to be given the seat. In the first round of voting, Alain Berset took the lead with nearly twice as many votes as his opponents, but without the necessary majority. The 31-year-old economist from Fribourg is the youngest member of the upper house.

Doris Leuthard and Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf were re-elected easily as the first two of seven seats for the ruling Federal Council, the Swiss government (also sometimes referred to as the cabinet) were assigned by parliament. Ueli Maurer, Didier Burkhalter and Simonetta Sommaruga were re-elected in the minutes that followed.

Leuthard, who is minister for the economy, had 216 votes (114 needed for an absolute majority) while Widmer-Schlumpf, finance minister, had 131 (absolute majority: 120). The latter’s split from the national UDC party angered it in 2007, when she was elected and leader Christoph Blocher was not, and her re-election today, with the two UDC candidates receiving far fewer votes.

The UDC is now attacking the final two seats with just one of its two official candidates, Jean-François Rime. Given the UDC’s strongly conservative stance on the economy and foreign affairs, the seats are hotly contested.

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey, who has been a member of the Federal Council for seven years, gave her farewell speech Wednesday morning. The 66-year-old Socialist is retiring from political office, although she told journalists two weeks ago that she has no intention of dropping off the political scene.

The Swiss presidency rotates among the council members, who serve in the role for one year.

The order of votes for the seven council seats are based on time in office:

1. Doris Leuthard, Environment, transport and communications minister (elected 14 June 2006)
2. Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Department of Finance (13 December 2007)
3. Ueli Maurer, Dep’t of Defense, civil protection and sport (10 December 2008)
4. Didier Burkhalter, Dep’t of Home Affairs (16 September 2009)
5. Simonetta Sommaruga, Dep’t of Justice and Police (22 September 2010)
6. Johann Schneider-Ammann, Dep’t of the economy (22 September 2010)
7. Micheline Calmy-Rey’s seat, Dep’t of foreign affairs (replacement)

Alain Berset and Pierre-Yves Maillard are the official Socialist candidates for Calmy-Rey’s seat.

Ed. note: Swissinfo in March 2011 posted a useful background story on how the Swiss parliament is elected.