New kids in the House. no less than 70 new parliamentarians will have their say on issues facing Switzerland as the new political year gets underway. Among them will be the country's first black parliamentarian, the first Green politicians in the Senate and a new batch of 30-something women lending a fresh look to the House of Representatives.

Author:Ledsom, Mark
Position:POLITICS - Cover story
 
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Swiss News has been talking to three of the new intake about the secrets of their success and their hopes for the coming months. This month, we speak with Social Democrat Ricardo Lumengo and Swiss People's Party's Natalie Rickli. In the February issue, look for Green Party Senator Robert Cramer.

Black to the future

Social Democrat Ricardo Lumengo made national headlines in October when he completed the unlikely transition from Angolan asylum-seeker to Swiss parliamentarian. Just ten years after receiving Swiss nationality, the 45-year-old lawyer became the first ever black person to win a seat in the House of Representatives.

Mark Ledsom, Swiss News: Herr Lumengo, how surprised were you at becoming Switzerland's first black parliamentarian--particularly after an election campaign that was frequently portrayed abroad as involving new levels of Swiss xenophobia and even racism?

Ricardo Lumengo: I never took it for granted that I would be voted in but I knew I had a good chance because I worked hard on a strong campaign and had lots of people saying they would vote for me, and of course I had lots of exposure in the media. The feeling of confidence went away on the day of the election, though, when I found out how many seats my party were losing. So in the end it was quite a big surprise to get in.

Did you share the view of many of your colleagues on the left that the People's Party's "Black Sheep" campaign (depicting a black sheep being kicked off a Swiss flag by three white sheep) was racist?

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Well, I have no way of knowing what the people behind that campaign were really thinking but what's important is the idea they transmitted with that image, the idea of exclusion. Because of that we can certainly say that the idea conveyed by the poster was racist. But I do not believe the majority of Swiss are racist. Their historic and symbolic decision to elect me is proof that a good deal of them are not!

You seemed to play on the Black Sheep campaign during your own successful campaign and were captioned by one newspaper saying "Je suis le mouton noir" (I am the Black Sheep) on the day after the election. Did you not have any misgivings that you were making light of the issue?

The identification of me as the black sheep did not actually come from me and I never actually said the quote used for the newspaper headline. But it's true that lots of my supporters were saying that the People's Party were...

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