German Bavaria election results a blow to German coalition

Markus Soeder, Bavaria premier and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), which won the most votes in Sunday’s local election
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BERLIN — A key regional elections on Sunday in Germany conservatives and right-wing populists are celebrating.

But the results are a blow for all three parties in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ left-wing-led national coalition. The ramifications will be felt across Germany.

A quarter of voters were able to go to the polls in regional elections in two of Germany’s largest and wealthiest states, Bavaria and Hesse.

In both regions, conservative and right-wing populist parties used the election campaign to bash Olaf Scholz’ national government over migration and energy policy. It paid off.

In Hesse, according to initial predictions, the conservative incumbent CDU scored 34.5% of the vote, a substantial gain on its solid win last time.

The far-right AfD also upped its previous score by a couple of percent to a predicted 18%, which would be the AfD’s highest score in a western German state election and put the party in second place.

All three parties in Scholz’ national coalition have slipped a couple of percentage points, with both the Greens and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD at around 15%, and the free-market liberal FDP hovering at 4.9% and may miss the 5% threshold to stay in parliament.

In Bavaria the incumbent conservative CSU, who have led the regional government almost continually since 1946, won the most votes. Although with only 36.7%, according to predicted results, it’s the party’s worst result since 1958.

The CSU looks set to stay in power, but will need to stay in coalition with the right-wing populist Freie Wähler (Free Voters). Having scored their best result yet, at a predicted 15%, the insurgent Free Voters will feel emboldened and are already demanding another ministry.

The Greens slipped slightly to 15%, while the SPD is down to a catastrophic 8%. With a predicted 2.8% the FDP will not even get into parliament.

The far-right AfD won’t enter government in either state – no other party will form a coalition with them. But these results will have a broader impact nationally.

Today’s votes were the first in a string of key German elections over the next two years, culminating in national parliamentary elections in 2025, and the results will embolden the AfD. Next year, in regional elections in three eastern German states, according to current polls the AfD could win the most votes.

On a local level, in some eastern regions where the AfD has won local leadership posts, there are signs that the conservative firewall banning cooperation with the far-right could be crumbling.

The success of both the AfD and the Free Voters will influence the national debate, and is likely to encourage some conservatives, particularly CDU leader Friedrich Merz, to become even more hard-line on issues like migration.

Meanwhile the poor performance by all three parties in Olaf Scholz’ federal coalition will mean leaders will be under pressure to fight for core values, making it even more difficult to paper over differences between three very disparate coalition partners.

Particularly the FDP will be feeling insecure after being pushed out of parliament in Bavaria and possibly Hesse. The business-friendly, small-state FPD is already an uncomfortable bed-fellow for the left-leaning Greens, and is likely to fight its corner in Berlin even more ferociously.

The topics that dominated the debate in both elections were predominately national, not regional. In an unusually ferocious campaign in Bavaria, conservatives and right-wingers railed against Berlin’s plans to phase out fossil fuel boilers and high levels of migration.

While the centrist premier of Hesse portrayed himself as the stable conservative answer to the “left-wing-Green chaos” in Berlin.

But it’s not just the Berlin-bashing that has influenced voters. Since taking office two years ago Olaf Scholz’ coalition has tried to steer Germany through numerous crises, including the war in Ukraine, high energy costs and inflation.

Despite predictions of doom, unemployment has remained low, the country pivoted away from Russian energy and inflation has stabilised.

In many ways, Germany has coped well. But as Sunday’s elections showed, that’s not the feeling of many voters. — BBC