AP International

Elisabeth Kopp, first woman in Swiss Cabinet, dies at 86

GENEVA (AP) — Elisabeth Kopp, an advocate of equal rights and the environment who was the first woman elected to Switzerland’s seven-member executive branch, has died. She was 86.

Kopp died April 7 in the town of Zumikon, near Zurich, from complications related to an unspecified “long illness,” the federal chancellery said Friday.

Once one of Switzerland’s leading figure skaters, Kopp was inspired to work on behalf of refugees, human rights and democracy after seeing the Communist government of Hungary, a Warsaw Pact country, lead a violent repression against a popular uprising in 1956.

According to a database of Swiss elites hosted by the University of Lausanne, Elisabeth Kopp, née Iklé, was born in Zurich on Dec. 16, 1936.

After obtaining a law degree in Zurich, Kopp became a local councilor for a center-right party in Zumikon and won a seat in the lower house of parliament in 1979. She was re-elected four years later with one of the biggest vote tallies of any candidate running.

Koop made history on Oct. 2, 1984, when parliament chose her to succeed the outgoing justice minister on the seven-member Swiss executive branch, known as the Federal Council. It makes decisions by consensus, and the Swiss presidency rotates among its members every year.

Her election to the council, which is essentially a cabinet of ministers, came 13 years after all Swiss women gained the right to vote.

By December 1988, the overwhelmingly popular Kopp, as justice minister, was selected for the post of vice president — putting her on the cusp of becoming president herself two years later.

Scandal ended that prospect. A month later, she resigned after allegations surfaced that she had tipped off her husband, Hans Kopp, that one of his businesses was named in a probe into the laundering of drug money. A special prosecutor said she was suspected of violating government secrecy.

Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

While she acknowledged political missteps, she always denied any legal or moral wrongdoing in connection with the case, and the federal court acquitted her the following year.

Kopp was known for taking strong stands in defense of women’s rights and in favor of tighter anti-pollution measures in a country where damage to environment had become a dominant popular concern.

A funeral for Kopp was held on Friday among family members, the chancellery said, adding that a more public commemoration would be announced soon.

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