3 Dec 2008


'Secret society' adds to
Schmid succession intrigue

The secret’s out about “Group 13.” It’s an informal group of parliamentarians whose existence was revealed in the Sunday press as a force that could block the Swiss People’s Party’s hard line from taking over Defense Minister Samuel Schmid’s seat in the federal government. The “secret society” has stayed in the headlines since for several days now. WRS’s Jordan Davis went to find out more about them and how serious they are.

By Jordan Davis, World Radio Switzerland

Group 13 members are clear. It’s not about blood oaths. It’s not about secret handshakes. What is it about? Zurich Social Democrat Andreas Gross gives this hint: look at “13.” ANDREAS GROSS: «It’s the sum of all numbers in the date of 12-12-07.»

That’s December 12th 2007, the date People’s Party firebrand Christoph Blocher was thrown out of the government. GROSS: «Among those who did not elect Christoph Blocher a year ago … we created a regular gathering.» A non-partisan club of twenty or so parliamentarians committed to maintaining a culture of respect for diverse opinions in the Federal Palace. But Gross says they’re worried now that the People’s Party has submitted Christoph Blocher and Ueli Maurer as their candidates to replace Samuel Schmid.

GROSS: «Mr Maurer is one of those hard liners who had the most non-respective discourse against those who disagreed with him. And sometimes he went even further than Blocher. He is a photocopy of the negative sides of Blocher without having the positive sides of Blocher. And that is absolutely no alternative for us.» Gross says lots of parliamentarians beyond the Group 13 are uneasy with the Maurer pick. And he says the no-longer-so-secret group will no doubt look for alternative to the People’s Party’s official ticket.

But the People’s Party has tried to head off just such an eventuality. They’ve said it’s Blocher or Maurer … or nobody.

That’s Jean-Francois Rime is a parliamentarian from the canton of Fribourg. The People’s Party threatens to expel any of its members who accepts a cabinet post without the party’s ok. It’s already thrown out Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf. And Rime says he’s not afraid of an alternative candidate from the Group of 13 or anyone else. RIME: «If the other parties should decide not to vote for one of these two candidates, then we’ll stay in the opposition and we’ll wait three years. And in the next elections we’ll wait to see what the people think.»

Many in the press have surmised that other political parties are so afraid of the political instability of that scenario that they’ll accept Ueli Maurer … even if they don’t like him.

But Andreas Gross says beware of conventional wisdom. GROSS: «You should never forget that three days before the non-election of Christoph Blocher they laughed at you when you said ‘there is still a chance to avoid Blocher.’ And it’s the same here.»

Last year, it was the Green candidate Luc Recordon whose fake candidacy distracted attention from the real efforts to unseat Christoph Blocher. What if the sudden appearance of the Group of 13 and its public search for a Maurer alternative were also a stalking horse? Or what if, after last year’s political shock, everyone’s looking for intrigue where there isn’t any?

Nobody really knows. And everyone will keep talking about it until the election a week from today.

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