Defense Minister Ueli Maurer reacts Dec. 5 during a reception in Bern after being elected president of Switzerland for a one-year mandate. Maurer is replacing Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf. (FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)
GENEVA — The Swiss parliament on Dec. 5 elected Defense Minister Ueli Maurer, a hardline member of the populist rightwing SVP party who opposes closer ties with the EU, to serve as president in 2013.
Maurer’s election to the largely ceremonial post was all but assured, because it was his turn in the rotation of the presidency among the country’s seven members of the Federal Council, or government.
But as an outspoken member of SVP, Switzerland’s largest party, the 62-year-old Maurer garnered only 148 out of a possible 202 parliamentary votes — the third worst result in the past 50 years.
Although the Zurich-born Maurer was the only candidate, 36 parliamentarians cast blank ballots, while 40 cast their votes for Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, who will take over Maurer’s post as vice president.
Swiss presidents are generally expected to represent Switzerland internationally, as has been the case with outgoing President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, who is also finance minister.
But Maurer, who is not known for his diplomatic finesse and who opposes closer ties with the European Union, has said he intends to be a domestic president, according to public broadcaster DRS.
He has said he will hand most international missions off to his vice president and will reduce international travel to a bare minimum.
Maurer, who will continue to carry out his defense portfolio, was officially supported for the one-year presidential mandate by all the parliamentary parties except the Greens.
Other left wing parties did not follow through on threats in the months leading up to the vote to sanction Maurer for his harsh and uncompromising tone since joining the Federal Council four years ago.