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17 September 2013

The Bavarian Barometer - Victory for Merkel's allies in state election

The CSU, regional branch of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), won an absolute majority of 47.7 per cent in the state of Bavaria. The results increase the likelihood that Germany's next government will be a left-right coalition.

Partially translated from the German

The state elections in Bavaria are considered by many to be a mood test for the federal elections this weekend, writes Die Zeit. Even though the so-called Free State is in some respects an anomaly and to draw precise conclusions from for the national poll would be wrong, there are certainly some lessons to be learned, as pointed out by the FT (subscription required).

The Guardian reports that exit polls in Bavaria indicated that the Christian Social Union (CSU), the regional branch of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), had won an absolute majority in the state parliament with nearly 48 per cent of the votes. The Free Democrats (FDP), government coalition party on a federal level, trailed miserably with just 3.3 per cent, leaving them significantly short of the 5 per cent threshold needed to enter parliament. As the Telegraph pointed out, this meant they lost more than half their support and all their seats in the legislature in Munich. Experts agreed the FDP's weak performance could have a major bearing on next week's national vote, with polls indicating they risk failing to reach the threshold necessary to enter the Bundestag.

Germany’s main opposition party, the Social Democrats (SPD) of Merkel challenger Peer Steinbrück, finished a distant second in Bavaria with 20.6 per cent. That was two percentage points better than the post-World War II low they hit five years ago, but too little to give them any hope of unseating the conservatives or much national momentum. And their allies, the Greens, slipped to a disappointing 8.6 per cent.

SPD leader Peer Steinbrück, however, downplayed the significance of the Bavarian vote, saying that "the federal election isn't being decided here", as quoted by the BBC. Still, the tailwind feels different, writes the Spiegel. Even though the SPD could improve their Bavarian result slightly, their preferred coalition partner, the Greens, showed further declining support, making the Red-Green coalition a distant wish.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung analysed why good news in Bavaria was not necessarily good news in Berlin: As much as the Christian Democrats celebrate with their Bavarian sister party, the Free State victory could mean problems for Angela Merkel as she enters the final week of election campaigning:

  1. Minister-President of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, is now brimming with confidence. He has already announced he would hold on to his demand for a car toll for foreigners, although CDU leader Angela Merkel does not support it. The whiff of discord and discussions are not what the Chancellor needs in her harmony-seeking election campaign. But to contradict and silence him will be increasingly difficult from now on.
  2. The second problem is the FDP. The Liberals are increasingly vying for their defeat in Bavaria to "borrowed" second votes of CDU voters, with the sound argument that if people want a black and yellow coalition, they have to help out the FDP. This, however, is dangerous for the CDU who have lost a state election (Saxony) very narrowly to a red-green majority because of such tactical voting.
  3. And thirdly, the problem of motivation. Many CDU voters might stay at home for the general election because they think that their party is assured to win anyway. Should the SPD manage to mobilise strongly, this could jeopardise the yellow and black majority.

Tactical voting

The FT explains that every German voter has two votes, one for an individual candidate in a particular constituency, and one for a political party. The last thing that Ms Merkel needs is for her Christian Democrats to split their votes, and give half their support to the liberals.

But after their defeat in Bavaria, the FDP is blatantly campaigning to win the second votes of CDU supporters. The liberal front-runner Rainer Brüderle is quoted in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as saying that "Those who want Merkel have to choose the FDP". Only the "Merkel" vote for the FDP could secure the survival of the black-yellow coalition government and prevent the CDU from having to enter into a grand coalition with the SPD.

However, CDU secretary general Hermann Gröhe stressed on German radio that it was parties and not coalitions that would be elected on Sunday. Equally, the chairman of the CDU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Volker Kauder (CDU), also rejected the idea of campaigning to give the second vote to their coalition partner. Those who wanted to keep Angela Merkel in as Chancellor, would "have to give both votes to the CDU". He also stressed that he was confident that the black-yellow coalition would be able to continue after the election and that he was certain that the FDP "would be present in the next Bundestag in any case".

So far, not much has pointed to the fact that conservatives might vote tactically for the FDP in any big way, writes the Wiener Zeitung. However, maybe the results in Bavaria will still bring unexpected dynamics into the federal election campaign.

The overall turnout in Bavaria was almost 7 per cent higher than in 2008, at 64.5 per cent. This can perhaps be taken as a sign of how aware voters are of the significance of this election for the national results.

See also an article by the Deutsche Bank research team for a full analysis of the Bavarian state elections in a "political landscape as unique as the Oktoberfest".

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