Today three German states held assembly elections, the last before the federal general election on 27 September.
While Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (and their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union) are riding high in most polls for the federal election, the party took “heavy hits” in two of these state elections.
The CDU will remain in power in Saxony, but is likely to be displaced by broad left coalitions in Saarland and Thuringia.
In the western German province of the Saarland, the CDU had ruled alone after pulling in 47.5 percent of the vote in 2004. Projections from Sunday’s election say the party will receive just 35 percent of the votes, which could lead to a coalition between the center-left Social Democratic Party, the Left Party and the environmentalist Green Party.
If the Left Party enters a coalition in the Saarland, it would be the first time the party, which is composed of former East German communists and disaffected SDP members, joins a government in western Germany.
A previous western attempt at SPD-Left collaboration in Hesse fell apart when SPD* backbenchers rebelled. However, the federal party leadership has given the green light (so to speak) to state parties to form coalitions with the Left and the Greens, where local conditions make it viable. If such arrangements work out, they could be models for future cooperation at the federal level. Such cooperation may be the only way the SPD can return to power–aside from a possible return or continuation of the current Grand Coalition with the CDU/CSU–in four or eight years’ time, given the drubbing the SPD likely will take in the upcoming federal election. Although the Greens are likely to do well, there is no chance of a repeat of the SPD-Green coalition that ruled from 1998 to 2005.
In fact, the only way the Greens will get back into federal power any time soon is if, contrary to current polling, the CDU/CSU and Free Democrats (FDP) fall short of a majority. In such a scenario, bringing the Greens in is actually more likely than a continued Grand Coalition (which obviously has not been good for the SPD). There was a report on DW-TV a few weeks ago that noted the considerable overlap in constituencies between the FDP and Greens that would make cooperation more plausible than it might at first seem. (Merkel might even welcome such a coalition, as a way to balance the very liberal [not in the American sense] budgetary and tax policy preferences of the FDP.** However, at this point it still seems unlikely to happen.)
In Saxony, the FDP made gains, and is likely to govern in coalition with the CDU. The anti-immigrant National Democratic Party held on to some seats, having barely remained above the 5% threshold, in the Saxon parliament.
Voter turnout was high in Thurngia and Saarland, the two states where voters have turned against the CDU.
* It is interesting that DW uses “SDP” for the party’s acronym in English, whereas most US and British news organizations use the German acronym SPD. I am just more used to thinking of the party as the SPD.
** She had some troubles from the right side of economic policies, from within her own party, in the 2005 campaign.