Massive Setback for Merkel Greens Score Big in Key German State

It is being hailed as the start of a new political era in Germany. The Green Party looks set to appoint its first state governor after Sunday's election in the state of Baden-Württemberg. The result is a huge setback for Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Greens celebrate their historic victory in Baden-Württemberg on Sunday.

The Greens celebrate their historic victory in Baden-Württemberg on Sunday.

Foto: Uwe Anspach/ dpa

The Fukushima disaster has had, and will have, many consequences around the world. One of the more unlikely, however, appears to be the results of Sunday's election in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, where skepticism about nuclear power helped propel the Green Party to a historic victory over Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The Greens doubled their share of the vote to 24.2 percent, according to preliminary results released by the state electoral commission. They are now likely to govern the state in a coalition with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), which secured 23.1 percent of the vote, down 2 percent from the last election in 2006. In what would be a first for Germany, the Greens, as the senior partner in the coalition, will likely appoint the state governor.

The Green's leading candidate, Winfried Kretschmann, talked of a "historic electoral victory," while national Green Party co-leader Claudia Roth described the result as "the start of a new political era."

Although the CDU emerged as the strongest party, with 39 percent of the vote, down 5 percent from 2006, the conservatives and their preferred coalition partner, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), do not have enough seats between them to form a coalition government. The election represents a particular setback for the FDP, who only got 5.3 percent of the vote, half of what they received in 2006 and barely squeaking past the 5 percent hurdle required for representation in the state parliament.

Setback for Merkel

The conservatives had already been suffering in the polls, but the Fukushima disaster effectively turned the state election into a referendum on nuclear power , dealing a blow to the CDU and boosting the fortunes of the anti-nuclear Greens. The debate damaged incumbent CDU Governor Stefan Mappus, who had in the past been a vocal supporter of nuclear power. Merkel's political U-turn on atomic energy  in the wake of the catastrophe in Japan also appears to have backfired. Voters apparently saw her sudden decision to temporarily take a number of older reactors off the grid as blatant electioneering.

Support for the CDU in the state had also suffered as a result of widespread opposition to Stuttgart 21, an expensive transportation and urban redevelopment project in the state capital. The unpopularity of that project also benefited the Greens, who had opposed the plans.

Sunday's result is a huge setback for Angela Merkel, whose CDU ruled the state for almost six decades. The result further reduces the number of seats the CDU and FDP have in the Bundesrat -- Germany's upper legislative chamber, which represents the interests of the states -- and will make it even harder for the national government to pass certain legislation.

SPD Keep Power in Rhineland-Palatinate

Voters in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate also went to the polls on Sunday. There, the incumbent SPD experienced a disappointing result. They lost their absolute majority in the state parliament, with their share of the vote falling almost 10 points to 35.7 percent compared to 2006. The Greens tripled their votes, from 4.6 percent to 15.4 percent. The SPD and Greens will now probably form a coalition government, with the SPD as senior partner.

That election went slightly better for the CDU, who increased its share of the vote by 2.5 points to 35.3 percent. The result was humiliating for the CDU's coalition partner the FDP, however: They only secured 4.2 percent, down from 8.0 percent in 2006, and therefore missing the 5 percent hurdle. As a result, they will no longer be represented in the state parliament.

dgs - with wire reports
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