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Cablegate: Swiss Elections: Left-Wing Radicals Disrupt Svp

VZCZCXRO5798
OO RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHSW #1009/01 2831425
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 101425Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY BERN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4592
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BERN 001009

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/AGS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL SZ
SUBJECT: SWISS ELECTIONS: LEFT-WING RADICALS DISRUPT SVP
RALLY - SVP APPEARS TO BENEFIT

REF: BERN 896

1. (SBU) Summary: On October 6, left-wing radicals disrupted
a long-planned campaign rally in downtown Bern by the Swiss
People's Party (SVP). At days end, 42 left-wing
demonstrators reportedly had been arrested, with 3
demonstrators and 18 police injured. This incident has
further disconcerted the Swiss, who increasingly are
concerned about the unusually confrontational tone of the
ongoing parliamentary election campaigns and a clear erosion
in the Swiss ethos of consensus based political
decision-making (reftel). While the "winners and losers" of
October 6 are still being tallied, it appears clear that the
incident will further galvanize SVP supporters and perhaps
even attract some sympathy from Swiss voters who previously
have hesitated to vote SVP. A recent poll indicates that the
SVP has gained 2% since June, and now is hovering at 26%,
retaining its position as the most popular Swiss party.
Meanwhile, the Swiss Social Democratic Party (SP) has drifted
in the other direction, polling 22.3%, but remaining the
second strongest party, clearly ahead of the Free Democrats
(FDP) at 15.3%, the Christian Democrats (CVP) at 14.95%, and
the Greens at 10.3%. Though much can happen between now and
the October 21 parliamentary elections, it thus far appears
that the SVP's aggressive law-and-order and anti-immigration
campaign themes have buoyed its support among part of the
Swiss electorate. For its part, the SP appears to be
struggling somewhat to define its message, and finding less
resonance with traditional social democratic themes at a time
when the Swiss economy is thriving and unemployment is low.
End Summary.

-------------------
SVP Rally Disrupted
-------------------

2. (U) On October 6, left-wing radicals disrupted a
long-planned campaign rally in downtown Bern by the Swiss
People's Party (SVP). As Swiss officials had feared could
happen, an estimated 500 of approximately 3,000 left-wing
demonstrators separated into small groups in Bern's
labyrinthine city center and blocked the route of 10,000 SVP
supporters who planned to march through the city to the
central square ("Bundesplatz") in front of the Parliament to
hold a political rally. The SVP march and rally had received
approval from city authorities. The left-wing
counter-demonstration, organized by an umbrella group calling
itself the "Black Sheep Committee", was not authorized.

3. (U) In the early afternoon, as the SVP supporters began
their march toward the city center, their procession was
halted on one of the main bridges over the Aare river to the
downtown area, while police attempted to clear left-wing
demonstrators from the route. Some of the demonstrators
reportedly were sitting in the street, and eventually were
driven away by Swiss police using tear gas and rubber
bullets. Another group of 50-100 left-wing radicals
reportedly managed to reach the Bundesplatz, where they
promptly damaged or destroyed the equipment and decorations
that had been put in place for the SVP rally. The Swiss
police who were supposed to be protecting the Bundesplatz
reportedly had been sent elsewhere to try to contain
left-wing radical activities.

4. (U) Because the police ultimately were not able to secure
the entire route to the Bundesplatz, the SVP procession had
no choice but to return to the other side of the river, where
they held an impromptu rally. SVP Federal Councilor
Christoph Blocher (Federal Justice and Police Minister), who
had been marching with the procession, addressed his
supporters saying the SVP rally had been transformed into a
"demonstration for peace and freedom of expression." He also
criticized Bern's SP-Green dominated city government for not
providing enough security to permit that rally to proceed as
had been planned. The SVP's other Federal Councilor, Samuel
Schmid (Federal Defense Minister), had planned to address the
crowd at the Bundesplatz, and was unable to join the
impromptu rally on the other side of the river. At days end,
42 left-wing demonstrators reportedly had been arrested, with
3 demonstrators and 18 police injured.

-----------------
Political Fallout
-----------------

5. (SBU) Embassy staff who witnessed some of the events
surrounding the SVP march and left-wing
counter-demonstrations report the extent of the violence
appeared lower than has been depicted in the press.

BERN 00001009 002 OF 003


Nevertheless, the images of October 6 have further
disconcerted the Swiss, who increasingly are concerned about
the unusually confrontational tone of the ongoing
parliamentary election campaigns and a clear erosion in the
Swiss ethos of consensus based political decision-making
(reftel).

6. (SBU) The ultra-conservative SVP in particular has been at
the center of this debate, not least because of a notorious
campaign poster that depicts three white sheep kicking a
black sheep out of Switzerland (symbolically depicted by a
Swiss flag). While the SVP strenuously claims that the
poster is a reference to the parable of the "black sheep,"
and intended to refer only to the deportation of foreigners
who commit crimes, the SVP's political opponents have
denounced the poster as racist and provocative, and other
commentators (such as UN Special Rapporteur on Racisim Doudou
Diene) have expressed similar concerns. Indeed, the "Black
Sheep Committee" that organized that counter-demonstration is
a direct reference to the subject of the poster. The
organizers of the left-wing counter-demonstration have,
themselves, come in for criticism by those arguing that it
was inevitable that the unauthorized demonstration would lead
to violence. Bern City Councilman Daniele Jenni reportedly
may be forced out of the Green party, due to his leading role
in organizing the counter-demonstration.

7. (SBU) Beyond a growing Swiss public discussion regarding
the boundaries of civility in political debate, the events of
October 6 have prompted immediate concern regarding the
adequacy of the Swiss police response. Although the city of
Bern received police reinforcements from neighboring
communities and cantons, the number of police engaged has
been criticized as inadequate, not least by Federal Councilor
Schmid, whose speech at the Bundesplatz had to be canceled as
a result of the counter-demonstrators. In this context, some
Swiss observers have questioned whether Switzerland is
capable of co-hosting the European soccer championship ("Euro
2008") next summer, given the extraordinary security
challenges posed by such an event. Swiss police officials
concede that their response on October 6 could have been
better, but underline that they succeeded in achieving their
main goal, which was to prevent a clash between the left-wing
radicals and SVP supporters. (Note: In September, the Swiss
police in Lausanne received similar criticism for their
reported inability to keep some violent counter-demonstrators
under control during a campaign appearance by Blocher. End
Note)

-------
Comment
-------

8. (SBU) While the "winners and losers" of October 6 are
still being tallied, it appears clear that the incident will
further galvanize SVP supporters and perhaps even attract
some sympathy from Swiss voters who previously have hesitated
to vote SVP. The disruption of the rally certainly
reinforces the image that the SVP has cultivated of itself as
the guardian of a society allegedly under assault. Political
observers and opponents argue that this image of "victimhood"
is a mainstay of SVP campaign strategies, past and present.
In fact, a recent poll indicates that the SVP has gained 2%
since June, and now is hovering at 26%, retaining its
position as the most popular Swiss party. Meanwhile, the
Swiss Social Democratic Party (SP) has drifted in the other
direction, polling 22.3%, but remaining the second strongest
party, clearly ahead of the Free Democrats (FDP) at 15.3%,
the Christian Democrats (CVP) at 14.95%, and the Greens at
10.3%.

9. (U) While such polling data is indicative of the current
relative strengths of the political parties, the actual
distribution of the 246 parliamentary seats following the
October 21 elections will depend not only on true voting
behavior, but also on the proportional and federal mechanisms
that determine the members of the National Council and the
State Council that comprise the bicameral Swiss Parliament.
For example, the FDP and CVP in the past have tended to win a
disproportionate number of seats within the State Council,
whose membership is based primarily on "winner-take-all"
contests in the respective cantons, unlike the National
Council, in which the seats for each canton are distributed
among the parties according to the percentage of the vote
received. The current distribution of seats in the
Parliament is as follows: SVP/63, SP/61, FDP/54, CVP/43,
Greens/14, and all Others/11.

10. (SBU) Though much can happen between now and the October

BERN 00001009 003 OF 003


21 parliamentary elections, it thus far appears that the SVP
has managed to set the electoral campaign agenda with its
aggressive law-and-order and anti-immigration campaign
themes, which have buoyed its support among part of the Swiss
electorate. For its part, the SP appears to be struggling
somewhat to define its message, and finding less resonance
with traditional social democratic themes at a time when the
Swiss economy is thriving and unemployment is low. Thus, it
appears that the SP is seeing some of its support shifting to
the ascendant Green Party, now looking to take 10% of the
vote.
CONEWAY

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