While the SVP’s anti-immigrant campaigns, including calls to ban minarets and expel foreign criminals, have drawn sharp criticism on the international arena including from the United Nations, the party has managed to increase its vote share in successive Swiss elections.
In 2003, the party obtained 26.6 per cent of votes case. At the last elections that improved to 28.9 per cent.
Those 1997 results were the highest for any Swiss party since the introduction of the proportional representation system in 1919, an SVP spokesman said.
Crossing the 30 per cent mark “would therefore be a new record,” he added.
The latest opinion polls showed 29.3 per cent of voters planning to back the SVP, far more than the next most popular party the Socialists, with just 19.9 per cent.
That could bolster the populist party’s case for greater cabinet representation.
Since the 1950s the seven ministerial posts have been allotted to the country’s four biggest political parties–two seats each for the centre-right Radicals, Christian Democrats and the Socialists, with the remaining seat going to the SVP.
That balance changed briefly when the SVP gained a second seat after their strong 2003 election showing.
However, one of the two SVP ministers was ousted from the party due to in-fighting, leaving it with effectively one cabinet seat again.
Ahead of the October 23 elections, the SVP has threatened to form its own coalition if it is not guaranteed a second cabinet post.
“For me it means that as the biggest party, we have the mandate to form the government,” the party’s chairman Toni Brunner told the ZentralSchweiz newspaper.
The SVP was created in 1971 from a merger between a party of farmers and sole traders and the democrats of cantons Graubuenden and Glarus.
In its nascent years, it represented primarily the interests of rural workers and smallholders, but later grew to encompass other professions.
Swiss political analyst Pascal Sciarini said the SVP is “a party that is very difficult to classify.”
“It’s a right-wing party. A liberal party from the economic point of view, and national conservative in terms of values and culture. A party that fights to safeguard Swiss sovereignty and Swiss traditions,” he noted.
Members of the party are often “very conservative, very nationalist, certainly xenophobic,” said Sciarini.
It is best known for its anti-immigration platform.
Bankrolled by billionaire industrialists such as the party’s former leader Christoph Blocher, the SVP has stirred up controversy with its campaigns.
During the previous election campaigns, its posters of three white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag prompted the UN expert on racism to call for its withdrawal.
Its subsequent referendum campaign depicting a burka-clad woman against a background of minaret-like missiles sticking out of the Swiss flag also drew an outcry.
Immigration remains a key plank of its current campaign.
Posters depicting the legs of men wearing suits marching across the Swiss flag with the slogan “That’s enough. Stop mass immigration!” have been plastered across the country’s main train stations and town centres.
The party has also taken out newspaper advertising recounting crimes perpetuated by foreigners.
In one titled “Kosovar man shoots social benefits office chief,” the party describes a 59-year-old man who shot his wife who wanted to divorce him, before killing the head of the social benefits office, because “he had received too little financial help.”
According to official data, over one in five (22.9 per cent) of inhabitants here is a foreigner.
Just six days before the polls, the party claims to have gathered enough support to push for a referendum to “stop mass immigration.” If adopted, it could require Switzerland to review its free movement of people treaty with the European Union.
“This result proves that the population considers unlimited immigration to be a serious problem and it wants to give back Switzerland the means to control immigration,” said the party.