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Exit poll shows Swiss right-wing party bouncing back in parliamentary election as Greens lose ground

Exit polls conducted for Switzerland’s public broadcaster showed the country’s right-wing populist party was set to further strengthen its position as the largest faction in parliament in a legislative election Sunday that saw the leading Green party lose ground.

Broadcaster SSR said the right-wing Swiss People’s Party was on track to collect 29% of the vote in the national balloting, an increase of nearly 3.5% compared to the last such vote four years ago. The Socialists edged up nearly a 0.5 percentage point, while the Greens lost more than 4 percentage points to fall under 10%, according to the exit poll.

The election to fill the 200-seat lower house, the National Council, and the 46-seat Council of States, the upper house, will set the tone for the rich Alpine country as it adapts its self-image as a “neutral” country outside the European Union — but nearly surrounded by it — and grapples with issues like climate change, rising health care costs and migration.

After the election held in Poland last week, the Swiss vote showed another slice of the European electorate thinking about how to balance the appeal of right-wing populist politics and the need to spend money and resources to fight global warming at a time of rising inflation that has pinched many pocketbooks — even in well-to-do Switzerland.

Pre-election polls had suggested the Swiss People’s Party would make up ground it lost in 2019, when the Greens fared well amid rising concerns at the time about the impact of climate change.

This time, pocketbook issues appeared to take precedence over concerns about global warming.

Already, the Swiss People’s Party has the most seats in parliament, with more than one-quarter of seats in the lower house, followed by the Socialists at 39.

A new political alliance calling itself The Center, born of the 2021 fusion of the center-right Christian Democrat and Bourgeois Democrat parties, made its parliamentary election debut Sunday. It appeared set to eclipse the free-market Liberal party in voter support, according to the exit poll conducted by the gfs.bern agency.

No margin of error was provided, and official results weren’t expected for at least several hours.

Polls suggest the Swiss have three main preoccupations in mind: rising fees for the obligatory, free market-based health insurance system; climate change, which has eroded Switzerland’s numerous glaciers; and worries about migrants and immigration.

Outside a polling station in the quaint Geneva neighborhood of Carouge, Claudine Juillard, a retiree, said she selected a variety of candidates but mostly voted Socialist.

“Life is getting more expensive, and it’s not easy,” she said.

Marine Chatelenat, a teacher, said she was voting for a mix of Green and Socialist candidates.

“I can understand that when there are other problems, people say to themselves that the planet comes second,” Chatelenat said. “But in fact, I don’t believe it. I believe that if there’s no planet, ultimately, those issues come second. So for me, that’s the priority for these elections.”

The vote for the legislature will ultimately shape the future composition of the Alpine country’s executive branch: The seven-member Federal Council — which includes President Alain Berset, who has decided to leave government at the end of the year. He will be replaced by Vice President Viola Amherd, a centrist.

Switzerland has found itself straddling two core elements of its psyche: Western democratic principles like those championed by the European Union and its much-vaunted “neutrality” in world affairs.

The Swiss lined up with the EU in imposing sanctions on Russia over its war in Ukraine. The Federal Council is considering whether to join the EU and the United States in labeling the Palestinian group Hamas a terror organization.

The parliamentary vote is one of two main ways that Switzerland’s 8.5 million people guide their country. Another is through regular referendums — usually four times a year — on any number of policy decisions, which set guideposts that parliament must follow as it drafts and passes legislation.

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