ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland’s main anti-immigration party is set to cement its position as the country’s dominant political force in elections on Sunday.
Switzerland’s system of direct democracy means citizens decide most major issues in referenda regardless of parliament’s make-up, so interest in elections tends to be limited.
With almost a quarter of the population non-Swiss, immigration remains the central topic for voters 20 months after the Swiss backed a referendum for quotas on foreigners living in Switzerland.
A poll by research institute gfs.bern showed the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) edging its national support up to 27.9 percent from 26.6 in the 2011 vote.
“That is fueled by several things but in part Euroscepticism,” said Charles Lichfield, an associate at political risk research and consulting firm Eurasia. “There’s a feeling that Switzerland should not be pushed around by Brussels.”
Victory for the SVP is unlikely to significantly alter the make-up of Switzerland’s consensus-driven government but could keep pressure on Bern to take a hard line with Brussels in talks on immigration.
The SVP is already the largest in Switzerland’s lower house of parliament, whose 200 seats are allocated by votes in individual Swiss cantons, or states.
It is the fourth-biggest block in the 46-member upper house, where candidates from most cantons need a majority in their state to win a seat.
Defence, Civil Protection and Sports Minister Ueli Maurer is the only SVP member on the governing council and the party has pushed for a second seat.
Despite its expected victory, experts said the SVP was unlikely to gather enough support to oust Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf from the governing council, or cabinet, whose seven members will be chosen by parliament in December.
Under SVP leader Toni Brunner, the party has rallied against Swiss reforms to deal with asylum seekers from the Middle East. This is despite Switzerland’s having to handle far fewer migrants than other European nations during the crisis.
The gfs.bern poll showed support rising for the left-leaning Social Democrats (SP) and right-wing Liberal Party (FDP), Switzerland’s second- and third-largest parties.
The poll showed the FDP was set to make the biggest gains of any party, raising its vote share by 1.6 percentage points to 16.7 percent.