- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

GENEVA — The Swiss parliament yesterday elected a firebrand nationalist to its seven-member Cabinet in a move likely to harden the government’s stance on immigration and doom lingering aspirations of joining the European Union.

The election of Christoph Blocher, the charismatic leader of the nationalist Swiss People’s Party, also looked set to change the consensus politics that have governed the neutral country since 1959.

The People’s Party staked its claim to a second seat — it already has one representative — on the four-party federal executive after it emerged as the strongest party, ahead of the Social Democrats, in general election in October.

Mr. Blocher was elected in a third round of voting with 121 votes, ahead of 116 votes for Ruth Metzler, the incumbent justice minister from the centrist Christian People’s Party, which is now the smallest of the government parties.

Mr. Blocher had threatened to lead his party into opposition if he failed to be elected, thus wrecking the “magic formula” consensus politics of the past 44 years.

As one of Switzerland’s richest industrialists, Mr. Blocher also is its most influential politician.

He led the charge against membership in the European Union, saying Switzerland shouldn’t cede its cherished independence to bureaucrats in Brussels.

He campaigned against foreign pressure on Swiss banks — which sat on assets for decades — to pay compensation to the heirs of Holocaust victims.

He is an outspoken critic of Swiss asylum laws, saying the country is being flooded with foreigners.

Mr. Blocher’s detractors say he’s a right-wing extremist and a covert anti-Semite — labels he denies.

Before the October parliamentary elections, Mr. Blocher’s party ran full-page newspaper ads criticizing “pampered criminals, shameless asylum-seekers and a brutal Albanian mafia,” implicitly linking them to an increase in crime.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called the ads “nakedly anti-asylum.”

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