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Swiss lawmakers select defence minister as president

Viola Amherd, the first woman to serve as Swiss defence minister, was sworn in Wednesday as the country’s next president. The Swiss presidency rotates annually among the seven ministers in the Federal Council, and Amherd, 61, was next in line to succeed Alain Berset, who is leaving government at the end of the year. Seats in the seven-member government are distributed among Switzerland’s four main parties. Amherd, a member of The Centre party, is a lawyer from the southern canton of Wallis with a reputation for being discrete but also doggedly determined. In a speech to parliament Wednesday, she called for compromise and dialogue, likening her political style to her canton’s recipe for fondue – a mix of gruyere and vacherin cheeses. “It works really well when fresh and creamy are blended, and then we all dip our forks in the same pot,” she said. Proudly single, Amherd was largely unknown to the public before entering government in 2019. She quickly gained respect among her colleagues, other political parties and the public, with a recent opinion poll indicating she is considered the most hard-working member of government. She pushed through significant hikes to the Swiss defence budget and convinced parliament to pick US-made F-35 fighter to replace Switzerland’s fleet. In addition to voting Amherd into the presidency, Switzerland’s 246 parliamentarians also elected the six other government members on Wednesday, though only Berset’s seat changed hands. Berset, who also held the portfolio of health minister, was replaced by fellow Socialist Party member Beat Jans. The parliamentarians selected Finance Minister Karin Keller-Sutter to serve as vice-president, putting her in line to take over the presidency in 2025.

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