The major parties, Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) are running neck-and-neck in the polls, and are expected to form a “grand coalition” after the vote on Sunday.
But the struggle between them to get the most votes, thus leading the coalition and filling the post of state premier, is crucial – particularly as the result is certain to be taken as a pointer to the possible outcome of next year’s federal election.
The latest opinion poll, taken last Friday, shows both CDU and SPD at 34 percent, leaving the parties concentrating on getting their supporters to the voting booths on Sunday.
The third power in Saarland is the socialist Left party, which is pulling around 16 percent of opinion polls, largely due to loyalty to its leader Oskar Lafontaine, who has his roots there and is known as the “Napoleon of the Saar”.
Merkel’s coalition partners on the federal level, the Free Democrats (FDP) face annihilation, attracting between two and three percent support, not enough to clear the five percent needed to enter state parliament.
This is a continuation of the party’s decline and a reflection of its level of support nationally – and its likely disappearance from the national parliament and thus the government adds to the expectation of a “grand coalition” between the CDU and SPD in a federal government after 2013.
The Greens, which along with the CDU and FPD had formed a government in Saarland in 2009, have lost support, with polls putting them at around six percent, their slide also reflecting a national trend.
If they fail to get a bigger slice of the electoral pie in the federal election, and in the absence of the FDP as a third power, there will be no feasible option for either the CDU or SPD to form a government without each other.
Saarland is just the first of three state elections over the coming few months – it is followed by the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein on May 6 and the country’s most populous, North Rhine-Westphalia on May 13.