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Judge under fire from Swiss right-wing party wins re-election

ZURICH (Reuters) - The Swiss parliament re-elected supreme court judge Yves Donzallaz on Wednesday after attempts by his right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) to oust him triggered a wave of protests.

FILE PHOTO: The main courtroom (Grande Salle) of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgericht) is pictured in Lausanne, Switzerland, Switzerland, November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The SVP group, the parliament’s biggest, had asked the Federal Assembly not to re-elect Donzallaz, arguing he had betrayed his party’s values, but he actually got move votes than in 2014 when he was last elected.

The vote marked a clear endorsement of judicial independence in Switzerland, where judges from cantonal to federal levels are members of political parties, need their support to be elected and make party donations in an unusual blurring of lines between courts and politics.

The SVP criticised Donzallaz last year after he tipped the scales in a ruling to allow the transfer of UBS bank client data to French tax authorities.

They had previously clashed when Donzallaz backed a ruling, which acknowledged an accord on the free movement of people with the European Union prevailed over Swiss law, a consensus among legal experts that the SVP rejects.

“The SVP cannot and will not take responsibility for Yves Donzallaz any longer,” Thomas Aeschi, head of the SVP parliamentary group, told the debate. If other parties elected him, “then he is your judge,” he added.

Andrea Gmuer of the moderate Mitte party rebuffed the SVP. “Federal judges are not stooges of their party. They are solely committed to the law and its interpretation”, she told the debate that comes amid efforts to reform judicial appointments.

Aeschi told Reuters SVP would have backed Donzallaz’s re-election had he agreed to leave the party.

Donzallaz denounced the SVP’s attempts to pressure him.

“It’s not just my personal case, there’s an institutional aspect. I was officially asked to stick to party principles as much as possible in my rulings, that was simply unacceptable,” Donzallaz told Reuters ahead of the vote.

Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Tomasz Janowski