Elections in Liechtenstein: only 23 votes difference between the two major parties

The two parties that share power at the head of Liechtenstein must now form a new coalition. Nothing new under the sun. Except that the hermetic principality – with only a male succession to the throne and the right to vote for women only since 1984 – could have the first woman at the head of the Government.

Each of them obtained 35.9% of about 20,000 votes in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, according to the Swiss news agency Keystone-ATS.

Only 23 ballots separated the Citizen of Progress Party (FBP) and the Patriotic Union (VU), known as “the blacks” and “the reds”, which have ruled Liechtenstein, bordering Switzerland and Austria, since World War II.

The local Parliament, the Landtag, which has 25 deputies, must now appoint the government, headed by Daniel Risch, (VU) or Sabine Monauni (FBP), which would be the first woman to lead the country.

Monauni was until now Liechtenstein’s ambassador to Belgium and the European Union.

According to Keystone-ATS, behind the two major parties, the center-left environmentalists of the Free List obtained 12.9% of the votes, the Democrats for Liechtenstein 11.1%, and the right-wing populists, the Independientes (DU), got 4.2% of the votes, which was not enough to enter Parliament.

A duel for two

Although the DUs had increased their percentage of votes in 2013 and 2017, the country’s elections this Monday looked – as always – like a two-horse race, with only marginal differences, policy-wise, between the horses.

Liechtenstein, a constitutional monarchy, is a small and prosperous state with minimal tax rates for businesses, widely considered a tax haven until very recently.

It is closely linked to Switzerland and shares with it a customs union and the same currency (the Swiss franc).

In 2018, the principality’s per capita income was 150,000 euros, the highest in the world, even surpassing Luxembourg.

Prince Hans-Adam II, 75, with a fortune of 3.6 billion euros, ruled Liechtenstein until 2004, when he handed over power to his son, Prince Alois.

More power to the prince

Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein and his son, Crown Prince Alois, have only strengthened their control over the small Alpine nation. And the people of Liechtenstein, for the most part at least, seem to love them for it.

In 2003, following a series of disputes between Prince Hans-Adam II and the Liechtenstein Parliament, a referendum was held, not to reduce his power over parliamentary politics, but to increase it. The 40,000 inhabitants of Liechtenstein voted overwhelmingly in favor.

Then, in 2012, after the prince, a staunch Catholic, threatened to veto a law that would have legalized abortion, democracy advocates staged a referendum that would have reduced the power of the monarchy. More than 75% of Liechtenstein citizens voted against.

The prince threatened to leave the country if the vote was against him.

The Monarchy is not a political issue in Liechtenstein. Even the tiny “Free List” group, originally Republican, no longer speaks out against the prince.

“The form of government enjoys great support in Liechtenstein and has hardly become politicized in recent years,” says Christian Frommelt, director and head of political research at the Liechtenstein Institute.

From rural alpine nation to international financial center

Liechtenstein, a mountainous and largely rural country, was neutral during World War II, but emerged from the conflict with little industry.

Over the next several decades, it became a financial center, attracting businesses with very low tax rates, while its bank secrecy laws made it a popular destination for the rich and very rich who wanted to avoid taxes, and to criminals looking for a place to launder their money.

The latter – and to a certain extent also the former – led the small country to a black list of tax havens drawn up by the European Union. It took a decade before enough regulation was enacted to get it delisted in 2018.

That has not done much to hit the pockets of the people of Liechtenstein.

Like Switzerland, with which it shares a currency and language, Liechtenstein is not a member of the European Union, but it is a member of the European Economic Area, which regulates issues such as energy and financial services, but not immigration, on which it maintains the control.

Like elsewhere in Europe, immigration is an issue that excites voters, even though Liechtenstein has a very restrictive policy regarding foreign labor, often not even allowing workers who accept jobs in local businesses live in the principality.