Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union has suffered a setback in a state election which could see the beginning of a renaissance for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).
With 35.7 percent of the vote, the SPD were the clear winners of Sunday's state election in the northeastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The result represented an increase of 5.5 percentage points over the last election in 2006. "We practice good politics for the people," said the SPD's lead candidate Erwin Sellering, who will continue in his position as state governor.
The CDU saw their support fall by 5.7 percent, ending up with 23.1 percent of the vote. It is their worst result in the state in the post-reunification era.
The third-strongest party was the far-left Left Party, which got 18.4 percent of the votes, an increase of 1.6 percent over 2006. The party, which was founded in 2007 through the merger of a western German left-wing party and the successor to the East German communist party, is particularly strong in the German states which were once part of East Germany.
The environmentalist Green Party also did well, increasing its share of the vote from 3.4 percent in 2006 to 8.4 percent. It will now be represented in the state parliament, having passed the 5 percent hurdle necessary to win seats. The Greens now have seats in all of Germany's 16 state parliaments.
FDP Out of State Parliament
Sunday's clear losers were the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), who only got 2.7 percent of the vote, a massive drop of 6.9 percent compared to the last election, when it received 9.6 percent. The FDP will no longer have any seats in the state parliament. The reaction of the head of the party's state chapter, Christian Ahrendt, was swift; he resigned on Sunday evening. "Reaching the 5 percent level was my personal goal," he said. "After such a defeat, the party needs to reposition itself."
The far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) will once again have seats in the state parliament, having won 6.0 percent of the vote, a drop of 1.3 percentage points over 2006. Representatives of the mainstream parties announced on Sunday evening that they would continue with their critical stance vis-à-vis the NPD.
The turnout on Sunday was extremely low. Only 51 percent of registered voters -- around 1.4 million people -- turned out to cast their votes.
The final election result will not be known for a couple of weeks, however. One electoral district on the island of Rügen is only voting in two weeks' time due to the death of a CDU candidate.
Choice of Partners
With its strong showing, the SPD now has its choice of coalition partners. The most likely constellation appears to be a continuation of the current "grand coalition" with the CDU. Both parties have similar platforms, for example favoring tough austerity measures for the relatively poor state. The SPD has also said it will hold exploratory talks with the Left Party over a possible coalition, but observers consider such a pairing to be unlikely.
The SPD's preferred partnership would be with the Greens, but the two parties only have 34 seats between them -- just under the 36 seats required for a majority in the 71 seat state parliament.
The election result will give hope to the SPD that they may be ready for a comeback on the national level. The triumph in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania comes a few months after an election victory in the city-state of Hamburg. The center-left party is also leading in the polls for the Sept. 18 state election in Berlin.
Observers put the poor showing of the CDU and FDP in the state partially down to the problems of the national coalition government, including growing discontent over Merkel's handling of the euro crisis. The FDP in particular has seen its popularity evaporate since the 2009 national election. The party is under fire for its perceived poor record in government.