Germany: Merkel suffers setbacks in state election

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Elections in Schleswig Holstein on May 6 delivered yet another blow to the federal coalition government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP).

As well as forming government federally, the CDU and FDP were also in government in the small northern German state.

The CDU lost nearly 100,000 votes, slipping 0.7 points to 30.8% — its worst result in the Schleswig Holstein since 1950.

The centre-left Social Democratic Party was just behind its conservative rivals, gaining 5% to win 30.4% of the vote. The Greens won 13.8%, a slight increase.

Despite increasing their vote-share, however, both the SPD and the Greens received less votes than at the last election.

Barely 60% of the state’s 2.2 million voters bothered to vote — a 6.5% drop from the previous lowest record in 2005.

More than anything, perhaps, the election was a rejection of mainstream politics — and the hardest hit was the free-market fundamentalist FDP.

The FDP lost 130,000 votes and nearly 7%. However, the result — 8.2% — was presented as a “success” for the FDP because it didn’t lose all its seats. Since the start of last year, the FDP has fallen below the 5% threshold needed to enter parliament in six state elections.

That the FDP result in Schleswig Holstein was not as bad as elsewhere can be partly explained by the deliberate attempt of the local FDP organisation to distance itself from the party leadership in Berlin.

A similar strategy is being used in North Rhine Westphalia, where elections are due to be held on May 18.

A good result for the FDP in Germany’s most populous state could further damage the party's federal leaders and deepen the crisis in Merkel’s coalition government.

The main success story in Schleswig Holstein was the Pirate Party, which took 8.2% of the vote, — winning thousands of votes from the traditional parties.

The Pirates have now have entered three parliaments in as many elections, also winning seats in Saarland and Berlin.

Initially formed out of the campaign to protect digital rights and internet freedom, it is now the third most popular party in Germany.

However, the party has been criticised for its lack of coherent economic and social policies, and a Pirate Party leader recently caused outcry by comparing the party’s rapid rise to that of the Nazis.

The South Schleswig Voter Federation (SSW) won 4.6% of the vote, and three seats. As it officially represents the state’s Danish and Frisian minorities, the SSW does not need to reach the 5% threshold to win seats in parliament.

Left-wing party Die Linke suffered a big slump in support, losing more than two thirds of its votes — nearly 4%. The result means that, winning only 2.2%, Die Linke lost all its seats.

Die Linke leader Klaus Ernst described the result as “thoroughly disappointing” and put down the poor showing to voters switching to the Pirate Party. Some studies, however, suggest that many Die Linke voters didn’t vote at all.

The result is moderately better than some of the thrashings Merkel’s party and allies have taken in recent months, but she will take little comfort from the outcome.

Polling for the May 13 election in North-Rhine Westphalia suggests that the CDU and FDP are heading for a disastrous result.

North-Rhine Westphalia is widely viewed as a bellwether state in Germany. The result there could indicate the outcome of next year’s federal election, widely predicted to be a Greens-SPD coalition.