• Germany's news in English

State polls muddle German general election

Marc Young · 31 Aug 2009, 12:16

Published: 31 Aug 2009 12:16 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

What if Germany held an election and nobody won?

It’s certainly difficult to pick a winner from the rather muddled state polls held on Sunday, and even harder to divine any import from them for the country’s general election just four weeks away.

With Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) suffering heavy losses in Saarland and Thuringia, the conservatives will find little solace in their solid performance in Saxony. Two CDU state premiers now face the possibility of being replaced by left-wing coalitions less than a month before Merkel was hoping to be triumphantly re-elected.

Hoping to ditch the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) for the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) after the general election on September 27, she now has to worry if voters have started to sour on the idea of such a centre-right alliance. Long content to appear the aloof chancellor confident of cruising to victory, Merkel is now hearing from within her own party that her campaign lacks both passion and ideas.

FDP leader Guido Westerwelle can’t be particularly happy either with the results from Sunday – even if the Free Democrats might be able to join the government in Saxony. But will they be able to come in from the cold after 11 years in the opposition at the federal level? Still eminently possible, a coalition with Merkel’s conservatives at the national level no longer looks quite so inevitable as it did only days ago.

But the beleaguered Social Democrats can hardly claim victory either. The party is so desperate for a boost to its flagging campaign for the upcoming national election that the SPD has decided to focus on the CDU’s woes rather than those of its chancellor candidate and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Yet the SPD’s results in all three states on Sunday were less than stellar – and in Saxony its performance was downright dismal.

The once proud Volkspartei eked out ten percent of the vote to stay just barely the third largest party in the Saxon state legislature. The SPD also placed far behind the hard-line socialists from The Left in Thuringia and was barely ahead of the rival leftist party in Saarland. The message from voters was clear: if the SPD wants to govern Germany's 16 Länder, it has to do so with The Left, a collection of former communists from East Germany and disgruntled western German trade unionists. Otherwise, the Social Democrats have to be content playing the junior partner to Merkel’s conservatives for years to come.

So does that make The Left the big winner from Sunday? Hardly. The SPD has said it will not accept playing second fiddle to the socialists in Thuringia, making a grand coalition with the Christian Democrats more likely. And despite a strong performance in Saarland, The Left cannot be assured it will join a cumbersome three-way coalition with the SPD and the environmentalist Greens. Finally, The Left remains untouchable as a partner for the Social Democrats at the federal level after September 27 because of the party’s widely considered unrealistic economic and foreign policies.

For a country long known for its comfortingly staid politics, Germany has entered a phase characterised by uncertainty and turmoil – which is unsettling for both voters and politicians alike.

Story continues below…

The political cacophony is a direct function of the changing party landscape in Germany in recent years. The era of comfy two-party ruling coalitions is over – let alone the cushy days when the conservatives or Social Democrats could govern at the state or federal levels alone.

The parties will now have to get used to multi-party governments seen elsewhere in Europe. The first left-wing “red-red-green” coalition could soon govern in Saarland, but so too could the more exotic alliance of Christian Democrats, Free Democrats and Greens known as a “Jamaica” alliance because the party colours match those of the country’s flag.

Blazing such new political territory isn’t going to be easy and in the end the only “winner” on September 27 could end up being the status quo – that is, the unsatisfying right-left grand coalition of Christian and Social Democrats. That might be enough to keep Merkel in the Chancellery, but it certainly won’t be enough for German voters in the coming years.

Marc Young (marc.young@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German town, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd