New State Elections in Saarland: Merkel's Coalition Partner Faces More Setbacks

Two weeks after the collapse of its governing coalition, the tiny state of Saarland announced on Thursday that it would soon hold new elections. Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition partner, the Free Democrats, could emerge as the biggest losers.

Conservative Saarland Governor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer says the state needs a stable coalition to implement reforms. Zoom
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Conservative Saarland Governor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer says the state needs a stable coalition to implement reforms.

The year 2012 did not start well for Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats. On Jan. 6, the government collapsed in the German state of Saarland, one of the few remaining states where the FDP still had a share of power. The state's Christian Democratic governor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, even went so far as to blame FDP in-fighting for the disintegration.

On Thursday, the situation became even more tenuous for the ailing FDP. After attempts by Kramp-Karrenbauer to form an interim governing coalition with the center-left Social Democrats failed, she has now called for new elections. And if a recent trend continues, the FDP -- once the kingmakers of German federal politics -- will once again be faced with the prospect of struggling to clear the 5 percent hurdle for representation in state parliament.

Kramp-Karrenbauer's coalition, which had joined her CDU with the environmentalist Green Party and the FDP, was the first of its kind in Germany. Since its dissolution, she had been negotiating with the SPD. Those talks ended on Thursday due to ongoing differences on pending reforms. Furthermore, Kramp-Karrenbauer said, even if they had been successful, the resulting government would have had "the character of an interim government."

Once new elections are held, she said, the CDU may try to restart negotiations with the SPD. She said the two parties had found common ground on a number of issues.

Fearing a Setback

The new elections mean that the FDP will not have the respite it had hoped for in 2012. Only one state election had been scheduled for this year, in Schleswig-Holstein, and the FDP had been focusing intently on making sure that it received more than 5 percent of the votes in the state. Now, it must also fear a setback in Saarland as well.

In 2011, the FDP failed to leap the 5 percent hurdle in fully five state elections despite its role as the junior partner in Merkel's federal government. And recent polls have shown that things haven't improved so far this year. A Jan. 5 survey found that just 2 percent of Germans are prepared to vote for the FDP. Indeed, things have become so bad that even Merkel isn't taking them seriously anymore.

New elections must be held within 60 days of the dissolution of parliament.

kla -- with wire reports

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