The German state elections in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt are fought, the results bring electoral victory for the current office holders and also resulted in an AfD now strongly represented in all three diets. A few thoughts:
Turnout increased dramatically, between four and ten percent. The AFD was the big profiteer of this trend, gaining a fourth to a third of their votes from the previous non-voters sector, depending on the country. This trend can also be detected in the American election campaign, where Donald Trump in particular drives the previous non-voters to the polls.
Despite the all-conquering refugee issue, the state elections were about personalities. The incumbent office holders could defend their position, Malu Dreyer (SPD) and Winfried Kretschmann (Green) could even celebrate gains (clearly against the general party trend). Their electoral successes were gained mainly at the expense of the respective smaller coalition partner – in Rheinland-Pfalz the Greens lost two-thirds of their voters, the SPD in Baden-Württemberg also took a spectacular fall. In both countries, red-green or green-red can no longer make the cut. The fact that the same party gains an additional six per cent in one state (as the coalition leader) , while losing over ten percent in another (as little partner), shows the repeatedly observed trend (remember FDP and SPD in the federal government) that when in doubt the voter apparently places their trust in the office holding party, drediting them with progress in the country whilst blaming the smaller coalition partners for any mistakes in the last term of office. In addition, the incumbent in both western states are popular (Kretschmanns approval ratings are at close to 70%) and were in tight duels with their black challengers, which is why many voters of the smaller coalition partner changed the camp.
The CDU lost votes in all three countries, but was able to defend the office of prime minister in Saxony-Anhalt. Yet, this is not what election winners look like. The distinction from the chancellor’s refugee policy did little for the (CDU) challengers of the incumbent in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wurtemberg – at least not enough to reap victories. The clear positioning Dreyer and Kretschmann practiced, was clearly better received. For Merkel, the damage in the alliance appears to be limited. However, the partners of the big coalition (GroKo) were altogether massively punished (exception: Dreyer), which will probably lead to increased tensions in Berlin.
The Afd got 12-24 percent right off the bat, a political earthquake that was stronger than expected. Interesting detail on the sidelines: in a post-election survey in all three countries about two thirds of AFD voters reported, they would have preferred a CSU fit to be elected. Here it would be too easy for the established parties to place all of these voters in the right-wing corner – even if you have to locate the AFD’s contents (at the latest from Bernd Lucke’s egress) in the right-wing populist camp. It remains to be seen whether behind the announcements there is a willingness to take on the labors of Landtag and establish themselves as the first party since the Green’s ascend in the eighties to permanently remain part of the political spectrum in Germany. To date, no right-wing movement (DVU, Republicans) succeeded.
All parties disclaim currently working with the AFD , which I feel to be right, not only due to the content, but also because of the lack of experience: it requires some time to find one’s bearing in everyday political life, if forced to participate in government on top of it, many AFD-mandatories would probably be overwhelmed. On the other hand established parties could just exploit the inexperience – as Wolfgang Schüssel did with the FPÖ – and demonstrate substantial and programmatic weaknesses and ideas of this party. Whether one wants to do that to one’s own country (as a responsible politician) is, of course, another question.
The CSU will sooner or later have to consider whether perhaps they should run nationwide. At least in the current atmosphere they might have a chance to enter the diet in many states. The CDU could sell this strategy as a means to put the AFD in its place (cue: election survey).
The FDP has returned to two diets and is in talks as a potential partner in a tripartite coalition. It remains to be seen whether the FDP can find a common denominator with, say, the Greens.
SPD and Greens continue their downward trend, only the two leading candidates were able to escape this spiral. For both, sooner or later a staff discussion will start, and it is also absolutely necessary too: Neither the SPD nor the Greens will be able to bring in an acceptable result in 2017 with the current leadership. The Greens will probably have to let themselves be “kretschmanized”( “take the best, regardless of the political spectrum, as long as it works”) The victory of the pragmatists is obvious in these three ballots.
In all three countries, there will probably be tripartite coalitions, in Saxony-Anhalt no two-party coalition checks out mathematically (except with the AFD, but that was barred in all three diets). EU-Commissioner Oettinger calls for CDU-SPD-FDP in Baden-Wurttemberg, despite the massive election defeat. We will see how stable three parties can govern together. In a time in which the binding force of the national parties is dissolving progressively and new political movements are quick to form (and sometimes disappear again just as quickly – see the pirates), the likelihood of future elections regularly demanding for such constructs is rising. It is to be expected that the majority vote will become disputable again.
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