Merkel ally CSU braced for bruising in state polls

Greens candidate Katharina Schulze casting her vote in the Bavarian state polls yesterday. Her party is likely to be one of the biggest winners.
Greens candidate Katharina Schulze casting her vote in the Bavarian state polls yesterday. Her party is likely to be one of the biggest winners.PHOTO: REUTERS

Centre-right party could lose majority, curbing bid to form coalition govt in Bavaria

BERLIN • Chancellor Angela Merkel's Bavarian allies were headed for their worst state election result in over 60 years yesterday in a regional vote that was likely to increase tensions within Germany's fragile coalition government.

According to the latest polls, the Christian Social Union (CSU) will win around 34 per cent of the votes, losing the absolute majority with which the centre-right party has controlled its south-eastern heartland for most of the post-war period.

One of the biggest winners is likely to be the ecologist, pro-immigration Greens party, which is projected to more than double its vote share to up to 19 per cent and overtake the centre-left Social Democrat Party (SPD) as the second-strongest party.

The regional protest party Free Voters and the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party are both forecast to win roughly 10 per cent of the votes.

This could complicate CSU State Premier Markus Soeder's efforts to form a stable coalition government in Bavaria. The splintered electoral result could force Mr Soeder, who has ruled out a coalition with the AfD, into an awkward alliance with the left-of-centre Greens.

Mr Horst Seehofer, CSU party leader and interior minister in Dr Merkel's federal government, could face calls to give up at least one of his posts following the Bavarian election as his hardline rhetoric against asylum seekers is likely to scare away voters.

"We've lost trust because of the CSU," Mr Volker Bouffier, deputy party leader of Dr Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

He accused Mr Seehofer of damaging the image of the CDU/CSU conservative alliance.

Mr Bouffier is premier in the state of Hesse, where another regional polls will be held later this month.

Parliamentary speaker Wolfgang Schaeuble, a veteran Merkel ally, has conceded that the two state polls will "affect national politics and thus the reputation of the Chancellor", who seeks re-election as CDU party chief in December.

As a consistent vote winner, CSU from the "free state" of Bavaria has confidently co-governed in Berlin with Dr Merkel's CDU.

But the dynamics changed after mid-2015, when the region bordering Austria suddenly became Germany's front-line state for a mass influx of mostly Muslim refugees and migrants, half of them from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

After initial scenes of welcome, the influx sparked a xenophobic backlash that drove the nationwide rise of the AfD, which in last year's general elections took millions of votes to weaken all mainstream parties. The CSU has since also attacked Dr Merkel's initially liberal refugee policy with a ferocity that has grown as the Bavaria election neared, in an attempt to recapture voters drifting to the AfD.

Divisions between the conservative allies have widened further since March, when an inconclusive national election forced them into a coalition with the left-leaning SPD.

Dr Merkel's fourth and probably final government has already come close to collapsing twice, in arguments over immigration and a scandal over Germany's former domestic spymaster. The parties are also at odds over how to phase out polluting diesel cars and whether to grant tax cuts for the rich.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2018, with the headline 'Merkel ally CSU braced for bruising in state polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe