Regional elections in Germany

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You don’t say. What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?

Dramatic headlines like “Germany votes in crucial state poll test for Angela Merkel”, “Will Germany’s regional elections be the beginning of the end” and ”State elections in Germany, Merkel’s doomsday is approaching” hadn’t failed to create some national and even international hype around three rather provincial elections. In the background one could hear some people humming, will she stay or will she go…

Germans voted today in three of Germany’s 16 Länder. The three ‘hyphen-states’ are Baden-Württemberg, Rheinland-Pfalz und Sachsen-Anhalt. Good luck pronouncing it.

18:00 sharp – thanks to German efficiency – the exit polls confirm the trend and our darkest fears of the last weeks: the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is successful in all three states. In Sachsen-Anhalt, a structurally weak East-German state, the AfD gets off the cuff a shocking 24%. A sad record: The best result a newcomer has ever achieved in post-war Germany. In Sachsen-Anhalt as well as in the wealthy West-German region Baden-Württemberg, home to Daimler Benz, Porsche and SAP, the AfD overtakes the Social Democrats.

The Social Democrats are downgraded and can no longer be called a ‘Volkspartei’, a people’s party, except in Rheinland-Pfalz where Prime Minister Malu Dreyer could defend her result from the previous election and her Social Democrats remain the strongest party.

The Christian Democrats lose in all three regions, but get hit particularly hard in Baden-Württemberg. Another record: it’s their worst result ever, in this State that was for a long time one of the CDU’s strongholds.

The Left loses everywhere, the Liberal Democrats seem to be revitalized and have a modest come-back winning back votes in all three states; the Greens lose, except in Baden-Württemberg, where Winfried Kretschmann, Prime Minister and ‘Landesvater’, father of the state, is the real winner of the evening: the Greens become the strongest party in a state for the first time ever in their history.

The good results for both figure heads – Kretschmann, a considerate, pragmatic and conservative Green, rooted in Baden-Württemberg, much liked and widely respected, and Dreyer, a friendly, down-to-earth, uncomplicated and strong woman, just as much liked and respected in Rheinland-Pfalz – make one thing clear: these were regional elections with regional issues won by charismatic and credible regional leaders.

The voter turnout has increased in all three States, which is good news, but these votes were mainly used to vote for the AfD to protest against Merkel’s refugee policy. Pollsters conclude that Germans who voted for the AfD don’t think the established parties care about their fears; however, interestingly they also don’t believe that the AfD, who has no substantial party programme, can solve their problems.

The FT wrote shortly after the first results were out: “Angela Merkel suffers dramatic setback in regional elections”.  I don’t think so.

These elections are a strong warning to all democratic parties in Germany. The governing coalition knows and will work together more strongly to defend democracy.

Kerstin Duhme is Senior Managing Director at FTI Consulting in Brussels.

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