The Swiss People's Party had frequently threatened to pull out of government and press on with its right-wing agenda as a force of opposition. But when it finally decided to do so, following Christoph Blocher's de-selection at the end of last year, the party quickly found itself in uncharted territory.
The party faithful themselves were adamant that they were in fact forced into opposition after the left-wing Social Democrats and centre-right Christian Democrats ganged up in an impressively well-organised fashion to oust Blocher from his government seat.
Their rivals countered that the party brought its fate on itself--by issuing parliament with the ultimatum that it either choose Blocher or risk taking on his party in opposition.
After calling the party's bluff by electing relatively unknown People's Party member Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf in Blocher's place, the other parties argued that it had always been up to parliament to choose the cabinet and that no individual party had the right to force through its own candidate. Besides, they added, the People's Party was still represented by its proportional allocation of two ministers in the seven-seat cabinet--Widmer-Schlumpf and defence minister Samuel Schmid.
"It's true that no party has ever had the right to nominate its own government candidate," political analyst Andreas Ladner told Swiss News.
"But there are problems with both sides of the argument. For example, is it really a satisfactory situation where the biggest party in parliament has to accept having its representatives in the government chosen purely by its opponents?
"Purely mathematically, the consensus has been maintained by giving the People's Party two seats but the whole idea behind the Swiss system is to bring all the main political voices together and to integrate those who would otherwise be in opposition. You don't manage that if the consensus is only maintained mathematically."
Out of favour
Sharing the latter opinion, the People's Party wasted no time in distancing itself from both Widmer-Schlumpf and Schmid. Widmer-Schlumpf had barely finished her acceptance speech when Caspar Baader, head of the party's parliamentary faction, stepped up to the podium to tell her and Schmid that they were no longer considered members of the faction.
The party stopped short however of actually expelling the pair--something that would in any case have been difficult to impose in a decentralised party whose...