ZURICH, Oct 21 (Reuters) The right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) looked set to consolidate its position in the alpine nation's parliamentary election today after a campaign marred by rare violence over immigration.
The country's approximately 4.5 million voters cast their ballots to fill 200 seats in the National Council, the lower house, on a proportional basis. They also elect 46 cantonal representatives to the Council of States, the upper house.
Polling booths in Switzerland closed at midday (1530 IST). A large proportion of Swiss ballots are cast by mail in advance of election day. The first estimated national result is due at around 1900 local time (2230 IST).
According to the last opinion poll conducted before the election, the People's Party are expected to win 27.3 percent of the vote, a slight increase over 2003 when they raced to the top of the polls amid accusations of xenophobia.
The SVP has again run a controversial campaign calling for the extradition of foreigners who commit serious crimes. It has been criticised by opponents and has roiled the usually smooth waters of Switzerland's consensus-based politics.
Opposition to the SVP's campaign, which used posters calling for the ''black sheep'' of Swiss society to be booted out, spilled over into a rare outburst of violence on the streets of Berne earlier this month when police and left-wing activists clashed.
The SVP's nearest rivals, the Social Democrats, are expected to take around 21.7 per cent of the vote, a decline from 2003, with the Christian Democrats seen winning 15.4 per cent and the Free Democrats on 15.5 per cent.
PROGRESS FOR GREENS? Pollsters Gfs.bern said in their last survey the true winners of the election would be the Green party, whose share of the vote is expected to rise by 2.5 per cent to 10 per cent amid concerns about the environment and climate change.
Swiss newspapers today dampened speculation the SVP and its leader Christoph Blocher could use its showing in today's election to call for a change in the composition of the Federal Council, the seven-seat National Executive.
The NZZ am Sonntag newspaper said the SVP no longer expected a 'massive increase in votes'. SVP President Ueli Maurer told party officials the SVP would support the current power-sharing agreement across the four main parties, the paper said.
Under a deal known as the 'magic formula', the seats are shared out according to party support. Those with two seats on the Council, which is elected by parliament in the December following a general election, are the SVP, the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats.
The Christian Democrats have one seat.
Reuters SKB GC1818