The Christian Democratic Party (PDC) has decided to drop the reference to “Christian” and take a name of dismal neutrality: “The Center.” It would take advantage of this change of window dressing to merge with the small Bourgeois-Democratic Party (PBD), which emerged in 2008 from a split from the Democratic Union of the Center (UDC), the first Swiss party, founded by Christoph Blocher.
The reason given by PDC chairman Gerhard Pfister is the erosion of the electorate: “We have not won any new voters in 40 years.” It is true that in twenty-five years, the party has lost more than 5% of voters to drop to 11.4% in 2019. To reverse this trend, the party seems to find it easier to change its storefront than to increase funding.
In an interview published on September 4 in Le Temps—a Swiss daily newspaper published in Lausanne—the president quietly affirmed: “A study has shown that we are at risk of losing 1% of our electorate [by removing the“ C ”]. But that same poll found that we could regain that 1% elsewhere, thanks to a name change.” So what’s the point? one might ask.
But President Pfister insists “Without the ‘C,’ we will reach a new sector that feels close to our policy, especially based on humanist values, which reconcile freedom, solidarity, and responsibility.” The journalist—Protestant—rightly remarks: “The term ‘Christian’ includes values, while ‘The Center’ is meaningless.”
A Little History
After the exportation of the revolutionary model to Switzerland, carried out by a neighboring country in 1793 ... the cantons were agitated by a fever that was first liberal and then radical during the first 30 years of the 19th century. Catholic parties then began to organize themselves to oppose it. After the war and the defeat of the Sonderbund (November 1847) which opposed seven Catholic cantons (Lucerne, Friborg, Valais, Uri, Schwyz, Unterwald, and Zug) to the increasingly oppressive liberal majority, this Catholic opposition came together as a federation, especially during the Kulturkampf period.
It was around this time that the PDC was born, although it did not yet bear that name. But it is generally referred to as the Conservative Catholic Party. As in written in the Historical Dictionary of Switzerland (DHS): “For decades, having Catholic roots has guaranteed the PDC extraordinary stability, with around half of Catholics voting for it.” Thus, he adds, “between 1919 and 1987, the party constantly won, at the Swiss level, around 21% of the vote. It obtained its best results in the National Council in 1963 with 23.4%.”
During all these years, the PDC defended the social doctrine of the Church. But after the Second Vatican Council, the DHS continues, “the PDC achieved a programmatic opening which led to the reforms of 1970-1971 and which brought it towards the center of the Swiss political spectrum; it frequently associates with the socialists in social politics and with the radicals in economic and financial policy, while it defended conservative Catholic positions in cultural and religious matters.”
The drift of the PDC over the past 50 years is thus linked on the one hand to the disappearance of its Catholic foundations, due to the disintegration of the faith which followed the Council; on the other hand, to a loss of Christian morality. PDC members thus came to defend indefensible laws such as the abortion law. Most recently, the party voted for marriage for all.
It is therefore possible to see this abandonment of the “C” as a logical outcome, and ultimately as the rectification of a name that has become erroneous and which is no longer relevant.
However, the change has not yet been achieved, as its base does not seem to be as rushed as the leaders to accomplish this facelift.