Merkel govt braces itself for results of key state election

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition faces its second test in as many weeks on Sunday as voters go to the polls in the western state of Hesse for a regional election that could torpedo the national government.

Voters in Hesse could decide whether the ruling coalition in Berlin stays together

BERLIN • German Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition faced its second test in as many weeks yesterday when voters went to the polls in the western state of Hesse for a regional election that could torpedo the national government.

Should Dr Merkel's conservative ally in Hesse, Mr Volker Bouffier, lose his post as state premier, the Chancellor's enemies will be emboldened ahead of her Christian Democrats' party congress in early December and may try to hasten her demise.

The other risk for Dr Merkel is that her centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) coalition partners come third in Hesse, which is home to financial hub Frankfurt. Such an outcome would increase pressure from the SPD's rank and file for the party to pull out of the coalition with Dr Merkel in Berlin.

Voting opened at 8am (3pm Singapore time) for 4.4 million voters - just 7 per cent of the national electorate. The first signs of the fallout for Dr Merkel were to come at 6pm (1am today Singapore time), when voting was set to end and exit polls were to give a first indication of the results.

Top-selling newspaper Bild asked if Hessen will explode the grand coalition in Berlin between Dr Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the SPD.

"Hessen votes, Berlin trembles," said the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily. "The Chancellor has never been under so much pressure."

A bad outcome for either Dr Merkel's CDU, the SPD or both will uncork a fresh round of finger pointing and calls to abandon the veteran Chancellor's third loveless "grand coalition".

Dr Merkel's preferred successor, CDU secretary-general Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has warned the SPD that pulling out of the ruling coalition after the Hesse vote would trigger a federal election.

A bad outcome for either Dr Merkel's CDU, the SPD or both will uncork a fresh round of finger pointing and calls to abandon the veteran Chancellor's third loveless "grand coalition".

 
 

Polls show the SPD would suffer heavily in a national vote.

In Hesse, support for the CDU is running at 28 per cent, a survey for broadcaster ZDF showed last Thursday. But the CDU and ecologist Greens may lack sufficient support to renew their ruling alliance in the state.

The SPD and Greens were tied on 20 per cent, the poll showed, with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) on 12 points, and the business-friendly Free Democrats and far-left Linke both on eight points.

Electoral momentum is on the side of newer parties, the anti-immigrant AfD and the left-leaning Greens. The AfD has entered 15 of Germany's 16 state Parliaments and the federal Bundestag, propelled by a backlash against Dr Merkel's immigration policy. The party is expected to eat into both the CDU's and SPD's vote to enter the Hessian legislature with a low double-digit share.

The Green party attracts voters who favour welcoming refugees, worry about climate change or are fed up with the big parties' indulgence towards car companies during a years-long scandal over harmful emissions from diesel vehicles.

The Greens' leader in Hesse, Mr Tarek al-Wazir, predicted that his party would also benefit from disappointment over quarrels which rocked Dr Merkel's coalition in recent months, mostly over the AfD's core issue of immigration.

While the CDU and its sister party Christian Social Union have been "wrapped up in themselves", Mr Wazir said: "We have never allowed ourselves to be driven crazy by the AfD's attacks."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2018, with the headline 'Merkel govt braces itself for results of key state election'. Print Edition | Subscribe