A Political Slap on the Wrist Merkel Government Takes Hit in State Elections

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats lost support in Sunday's state elections in Saxony-Anhalt while her coalition partners from the Free Democrats failed to get enough votes for representation in the state parliament. The vote may bode ill for important state elections this weekend.

Reiner Haseloff of the Christian Democrats and Jens Bullerjahn of the Social Democrats are likely to form Saxony-Anhalt's next government together.

Reiner Haseloff of the Christian Democrats and Jens Bullerjahn of the Social Democrats are likely to form Saxony-Anhalt's next government together.

The eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt has never had a reputation for being much of an indicator as to how voters in the country at large see the government in Berlin. National politics, it would seem, are secondary on election day. But in a vote on Sunday, the state did provide a peek at how Chancellor Angela Merkel's government might fare in elections this weekend in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Germans, results make clear, are not happy.

Merkel's Christian Democrats, firmly ensconced in the state for the last decade, came out on top with 32.5 percent, according to preliminary results, but received its second-lowest vote total in Saxony-Anhalt since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), Merkel's coalition partner in Berlin, fell below 5 percent -- the threshold that a party has to reach to hold seats in parliament -- and will not be represented in the state parliament as a result.

Support for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) hardly budged, coming in at 21.5 percent of the vote, and the far-left Left Party likewise saw little change from elections five years ago, coming in at 23.7 percent in Sunday's vote. Indeed, the only big winner on Sunday was the Green Party, which almost doubled its 2006 result and ended up with 7.1 percent of the vote on Sunday, securing it seats in the state parliament for the first time since 1998.

The far-right NPD received 4.8 percent of the vote, just missing the 5 percent necessary for representation in parliament. Concerns that the NPD could leap the 5 percent hurdle resulted in a higher-than-expected voter turnout of 51 percent, say analysts. Five years ago, a mere 44 percent of state voters cast their ballots, the lowest for any state in Germany's history.

The Wrong Side of the Issues

Despite the apparent dwindling support for Merkel's Berlin coalition, little is likely to change in Magdeburg, the capital of Saxony-Anhalt. The center-right CDU has governed the state in coalition with the SPD for the last five years, and Sunday's results make it probable that the "grand coalition" will continue. Reiner Haseloff, the CDU's lead candidate in the vote, looks set to become state governor in place of his fellow CDU member Wolfgang Böhmer, who is retiring.

On the eve of the vote, the SPD was clear that it would not seek to govern in coalition with the Left Party, a party viewed skeptically in Germany due to its roots in the East German communist party. "We will not go into a coalition with the Left Party. That promise remains valid," said Jens Bullerjahn, the SPD's top candidate, after preliminary results were announced on Sunday evening.

Still, despite the seeming political stasis in Saxony-Anhalt, the vote does not bode well for Chancellor Merkel in the two state votes approaching this Sunday. Polls show that the Social Democrats are likely to continue their political dominance in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate. And with the CDU on the wrong side of several national and local political issues, the party could lose its decades-long hold on political power in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg.

Merkel's decision last autumn to extend the lifespans of German nuclear reactors has backfired badly in the wake of the post-tsunami problems at Japan's Fukushima nuclear facility. Her party's support of Stuttgart 21, an expensive transport and urban redevelopment project in the heart of the capital of Baden-Württemberg, has likewise not been free of controversy. The recent resignation of her defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, due to indications that he had plagiarized large sections of his Ph.D. thesis, likewise has done Merkel's party no favors.

Haseloff on Monday expressed satisfaction and said he expects a continuation of the coalition with the SPD. "Coalition talks are sure to be contentious," Haseloff said. "But we are already working together in a coalition government and we are pursuing projects together that will also be continued after the election."

cgh -- with wire reports


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