ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss populist Christoph Blocher helped his right-wing People’s Party (SVP) to another election win on Sunday by lending his face to the cause.
“Support Blocher! Vote SVP!” read posters plastered around Switzerland in the run-up to the parliamentary election as the party used the 67-year-old’s image to mobilize voters.
Focusing on a cabinet minister is rare in Swiss parliamentary election campaigns but the strategy appeared to pay off for the SVP as it scooped 29 percent of the vote.
“Blocher is the leading political figure in Switzerland but using him is still risky,” said political analyst Georg Lutz from the University of Bern. “Blocher gets a lot of attention but he also polarizes voters.”
Claims that Blocher, who is justice minister in the multi-party cabinet, was also the victim of a ‘secret plot’ to oust him added to the pre-election intrigue.
A self-made man and fan of Winston Churchill, Blocher is credited with having helped transform the SVP over the last 20 years from a party with mainly rural voters to a more mainstream, conservative-populist grouping.
Along the way, he has won support by campaigning against bogus benefit claimants, foreign criminals, dishonest asylum seekers and demands from Switzerland’s EU neighbors.
Analysts say his charms compare to those of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi or National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
“He is a populist in line with charismatic leaders like Le Pen or Berlusconi,” Lutz said. “Probably one of his greatest abilities is that he speaks the language of the people.”
Blocher is a fiery orator and has a knack of raising issues that go down well with his party’s voters. Lutz said: “He does talk their language and he is quite clever. He has this feeling of what is good and bad in the long run.”
Blocher’s biggest coup was in 2003 when the SVP leapt to the top of the polls and he made a successful bid to increase the party’s representation in the government.
The seven-seat cabinet is made up of ministers from the four biggest parties. Since 2003, the SVP has two seats, like the Social Democrats and the centre-right Free Democrats. The Christian Democrats have one seat.
Analysts say he helped make the SVP more professional and improved its marketing, a result perhaps of his business acumen.
When he became a government minister in 2003, Blocher handed control of Swiss polymer firm Ems-Chemie to his four children, picking one daughter to run the firm and his only son to run one of its subsidiaries.