Swiss Elect First Black Lawmaker

AAP, October 23, 2007

“I am the black sheep elected after being chased,” declared the first black politician to be voted in to the Swiss parliament in the first interviews following the elections.

Ricardo Lumengo, who arrived in Switzerland 25 years ago from Angola, was savouring a victory that surprised him more than anyone else.

It was a victory made all the sweeter in the context of an election campaign fought on the anti-immigration, anti-crime views held by the right.

The highly controversial poster from the Swiss People’s Party showing a black sheep being kicked out of Switzerland by three white sheep gained them headlines at home, loathing in the foreign press and a substantial increase in votes and seats at home.

The backlash though, from the message of zero tolerance for foreigners who commit crimes on Swiss soil, apparently played on the sympathies of those voters outraged by the tone.

“I am red and black. I like it,” the Socialist Party member told the German language paper Blick, referring to his party colours as well as his skin.

The 45-year-old lawyer fled Angola to Switzerland in 1982 and started by washing dishes in a restaurant in Fribourg to fund his legal education before eventually moving into politics.

His rise from nowhere is not unlike that of his inevitable political rival, Christoph Blocher—the man identified as the strongman of the People’s Party.

The 67-year-old billionaire businessman made his fortune in the chemical industry after his humble start as a farm hand. The son of a priest, he too trained as a lawyer.

While Blocher’s party is perceived as racist in how it wishes to deal with criminals the majority of whom, according to statistics, are foreign, Lumengo is the archetypal immigrant the right would claim it wishes to embrace.

Lumengo rejects the idea of Blocher or his party as his nemesis.

“I am a symbol for Swiss people from abroad but I am not trying to be anti-Blocher,” he told the French language paper Le Matin.

When asked by the reporter if he was afraid of encountering the majority People’s Party in parliament, he said. “Why? Now I can speak to these people directly.”

Lumengo has received quantities of hate mail during his career. He may have proclaimed “I am the UDC’s black sheep,” after his election victory, referring to the People’s Party by its French acronym, but he insists that he has succeeded in politics in spite of, rather than because of his colour.

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