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Swiss voters choose moderate, center parties over far right

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
updated 12:13 AM EDT, Mon October 24, 2011
The Swiss People's Party have been running an aggressive poster campaign.
The Swiss People's Party have been running an aggressive poster campaign.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The anti-immigration People's Party suffered losses in parliamentary elections Sunday
  • NEW: Two more moderate parties were winners in Sunday's voting
  • NEW: The far-right People's Party's loss came as a surprise to many
  • The People's Party took the largest share of the vote in modern history in 2007

(CNN) -- Despite its xenophobic, anti-immigration campaign tactics, Switzerland's far-right Swiss People's Party, which took the largest share of votes four years ago in Swiss modern history, suffered losses in Sunday's parliamentary vote as voters chose more moderate parties over polarizing candidates.

The Conservative Democrats and the Liberal Greens -- more moderate parties -- were the clear winners of Sunday's vote, signaling a change in the nation's heavily polarized political scene.

According to Swissinfo.ch, the nations' public broadcaster and pollsters, near-final results showed the People's Party taking a considerable drop, but still ahead of the center-left Social Democrats.

The two traditional center-right parties, the Radicals and the Christian Democrats are also down 3% and 1.5% respectively, Swissinfo.ch reported.

The far-right People's Party's loss came as a surprise to many who expected the far-right's scare campaign tactics to succeed once again.

A poster in the German-speaking part of the country shows black boots marching over the Swiss flag.

One in French-speaking areas shows a condom plastered over the European Union's banner, proclaiming "Swiss protection against the European virus."

The anti-immigrant party looked to repeat its 2007 election victory, with pre-election opinion polls putting it in first place as voters cast ballots Sunday for the federal parliament.

A Eurobarometer survey this month put the party, known as the SVP, far ahead of its main rivals, with just under a third of people saying they would back it.

The Social Democrats were in second place, with about 20% support in pre-election polls, followed by the FDP Liberals, the Christian Democrats and the Greens.

The People's Party won the biggest election victory in Swiss history in 2007, after a controversial campaign that blamed foreigners for much of the country's crime.

The nationalist party rode a wave of anti-immigration sentiment to gain 29% of the vote -- about the same that it was getting in opinion polls ahead of the election.

Switzerland's political system requires consensus, making radical government policies unlikely, regardless of the election results.

But anti-immigrant sentiment helped fuel a 2009 ban on the construction of minarets, the towers usually built next to mosques for the traditional call to prayer.

The SVP campaigned against minaret building in the national referendum, arguing that minarets are political symbols and therefore go against the the country's constitution.

The party's campaign included fliers featuring a veiled woman against a background of a Swiss flag pierced by several minarets resembling missiles.

The Federal Commission against Racism denounced the posters, saying they "defame Switzerland's peaceful Muslim population, feed prejudice and portray the Muslim community as wanting to dominate Switzerland, oppress women and trample on fundamental rights."

Four years ago, the SVP ran an ad campaign featuring a poster of a white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag. The party also called for immigrant families to be thrown out of the country if their children committed a crime.

But while voters gave the People's Party the biggest win in recent years in 2007, they also elected the first black politician to the National Council

Ricardo Lumengo, who accused the SVP of "scapegoating," came to Switzerland as an asylum seeker from Angola.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen contributed to this report.

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