(CN) – The Swiss went to the polls for parliamentary elections Sunday and while turnout was down, change was up as environmentalist parties made historic gains.
The right-wing Swiss People’s Party, or SVP, lost 12 seats, the worst loss in Swiss democratic history, while the Green Party picked up 17, the largest win. A second environmental party, the Green Liberal Party, also gained nine seats.
“It is not a green wave, it is a green tsunami,” said Celine Vara, the deputy leader of the Green Party.
The SVP will continue to be the largest party in parliament, with 53 seats. The Socialist Democratic Party, or SP, lost four seats, to fall to 49, and the Liberal Party, or FDP, dropped to 29.
The Green Party overtook what was the fifth largest party, the Christian Democrats, who lost two seats and fell to 25. Together with the Green Liberal Party, environmentalist parties now hold 44 seats in parliament.
Switzerland now also boasts 84 women in its parliament, 42% of the total.
But turnout was down from 2015. In 2019, 45.1% of eligible voters put forth a ballot, while 48.5% did so four years ago.
The Swiss have a unique system of government. Voters elect the 200 members of the National Council and the 46 members of the Council of States. Together they create the Federal Assembly.
The Federal Assembly, in turn, elects the seven-member Swiss Federal Council. The position of president is largely ceremonial and filled on a rotating, year-long basis by the members of the Federal Council.
Currently, six seats on the Federal Council are held by the SVP, SP and FDP, with the seventh held by the Christian Democrats. Swiss political tradition holds that another party may only take one of the seats if they see strong results in two elections in a row. The four current parties have held all of the seats for the past 60 years.
In the 2015 elections, both green parties lost support.
The SVP was the only party running that did not campaign on more measures to combat climate change. The party instead campaigned on an anti-immigration, anti-European Union platform.
“We knew we were going to suffer a setback,” said Oskar Freysinger, an SVP senator who lost his seat. “But the important point remains that before saving the planet, we have to save Swiss sovereignty.”
An increase in support for green parties has been seen around Europe. The Greens took 17 more seats in European Parliament elections earlier this year and saw an increase in seats in parliaments in Belgium, Austria, and Finland this year as well.
The Swiss Federal Council election will be held in December.