Last Sunday was the first electoral test for the German government of
Angela Merkel, with state elections in Baden-Wurttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt.
Germany’s states are more closely tied into the federal system than
Australia’s, so state elections are carefully watched for their impact
on federal politics. Heavy losses by his Social Democrats (SPD) in
several state elections prompted Gerhard Schroeder to call an early
election last year, the inconclusive result of which eventually led to a grand
coalition between Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their SPD
Sunday’s results were generally positive
for the government. The minor parties excluded by the grand coalition
made only modest gains: the Liberals (FDP) improved their vote slightly
in two states but were down sharply in Saxony-Anhalt, while the Greens
also gained in two but slipped back slightly in Rhineland-Palatinate –
enough to put them below the 5% threshold for representation. The Left
party made modest gains in Saxony-Anhalt, the only one of the three states
where it is represented.
But voters seem comfortable with the status quo: the SPD will stay in
government in Rhineland-Palatinate, now probably with an absolute
majority, and the CDU will hold Baden-Wurttemberg, possibly without the
help of its coalition partner, the FDP. In Saxony-Anhalt, the ruling
CDU-FDP lost its majority, and the most likely outcome is a CDU-SPD
coalition mirroring the one in Berlin.
Monday’s Frankfurter Rundschau summarised the result as “Three
times ‘continue on’, with nuances.” But the elections are being
interpreted as a vote of confidence in Merkel, saying that there is no
reason not to push ahead with her reform program. The German electorate
is supportive, not panicky, and there might never be a better time.