Swiss voters elect parliament; polls predict rightward tilt

GENEVA: Swiss voters have cast ballots to elect their parliament and polls show a nationalist party could advance amid widespread concerns about the recent influx of migrants into Europe.

Under Switzerland's arcane, multiparty system that favors stability, the election to two houses of parliament was unlikely to dramatically shift the current broad coalition government policy — even if the nationalist Swiss People's Party advances. But the new parliament on December 9 will choose the Federal Council, Switzerland's seven-member executive that rules by consensus, so the outcome from Sunday's election could move its inclination to the political right.

Before the balloting ended at noon, the latest poll by gfs.bern agency for the national broadcaster suggested that the People's Party would win about 28 percent, the Social Democrats some 19 percent and the conservative Free Democrats just under 17 percent. Smaller centrist parties and the Greens were expected to be among the notable losers. The first national results were expected Sunday evening.

Despite early-voting and mail-in balloting options, polls suggest only about half of registered voters would cast ballots. Analysts have alluded to voter fatigue: The Swiss regularly hold referendums that allow the public an important say in government policy.

The vote to fill the two legislative chambers — the 200-seat National Council and 46-member Council of States — comes as the gfs.bern poll found nearly half of Swiss listed immigration, integration and foreigners as their top concern. Issues like relations with the European Union, health care, unemployment and the environment scored only single digits as the top issue.

Leaving a polling station in a well-to-do Geneva neighborhood, voter Rachel Payre said her main concerns were the environment, social protection and especially immigration. She encapsulated the concerns of many about migrants and refugees pouring into Europe from places like Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Afghanistan among other places in recent months.

"We have to respect our own asylum policies," said the 21-year-old student in nature management. "We have to help those who are in danger, but we can't accept all of them. We don't have the infrastructure."

Another voter echoed that sentiment and went further.

Regine Besson, a 70-year-old retired former graphic designer, said Europe needs to do more to ensure that migrants and refugees get more help at home or in their neighboring regions. She said she was "disgusted" when she heard that some Iraqi migrants she knew "cheat" the system, such as by receiving state handouts but driving a large luxury car.

Besson said she voted for a People's Party candidate.