Merkel's coalition hit by Bavaria polls debacle

(From right) AfD's MP Stephan Protschka, co-leader Alice Weidel and vice-leader of the AfD party in Bavaria Katrin Ebner-Steiner at an election party in Mamming in southern Germany on Sunday. Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soeder addressing supporter
Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soeder addressing supporters during the state elections in Munich on Sunday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Green Party candidates Ludwig Hartmann and Katharina Schulze celebrating on Sunday, as the party became Bavaria's second-strongest, drawing support especially in big cities like Munich.
(From right) AfD's MP Stephan Protschka, co-leader Alice Weidel and vice-leader of the AfD party in Bavaria Katrin Ebner-Steiner at an election party in Mamming in southern Germany on Sunday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
(From right) AfD's MP Stephan Protschka, co-leader Alice Weidel and vice-leader of the AfD party in Bavaria Katrin Ebner-Steiner at an election party in Mamming in southern Germany on Sunday. Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soeder addressing supporter
Green Party candidates Ludwig Hartmann and Katharina Schulze celebrating on Sunday, as the party became Bavaria's second-strongest, drawing support especially in big cities like Munich.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Cloud hangs over fragile alliance after her conservative partners suffer brutal losses

BERLIN • German Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government looked more fragile than ever yesterday after two of its three parties suffered severe election setbacks in the state of Bavaria.

The polls debacle for the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) and the centre-left Social Democratic Party of Germany ( SPD) cast a dark cloud over Dr Merkel's troubled grand coalition, dubbed the "GroKo", which has been plagued by infighting, mostly about immigration.

"The Bavaria election has made an early end to the GroKo much more likely," said Der Spiegel about the alliance Dr Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) forged in March after half a year of painful negotiations. "Two of three partners in the GroKo have suffered brutal losses. The third, Angela Merkel's CDU, fears the consequences."

Dr Merkel said yesterday the heavy losses for her conservative allies showed that voters had lost trust in the government, and she promised to fight to regain it.

"My lesson from this is that I, as Chancellor, must make sure that trust is won back. I will work on that with as much vigour as I can," she said at an event of German industry representatives.

In Sunday's elections, the CSU from Dr Merkel's conservative camp took a 10-point dive to 37 per cent, losing its absolute majority in the Alpine state it has ruled since the 1960s.

Her other national coalition partner, the centre-left SPD, dropped to 9.7 per cent, halving its support in the party's worst-ever result in any state polls.

The biggest winners were the Greens, who surged to become Bavaria's second-strongest party with 17.5 per cent, drawing support especially in big cities like Munich.

 
  • RESULTS OF THE BAVARIAN STATE ELECTIONS

  • 37%

    Christian Social Union

    17.5%

    Green Party

    11%

    Free Voters

    10%

    Alternative for Germany

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has railed against Dr Merkel's 2015 decision to keep open German borders to a mass influx of refugees and migrants, scored 10 per cent.

AfD co-leader Alice Weidel jubilantly declared that Dr Merkel's government "is not a grand coalition, but a mini coalition", and demanded that she "clear the way for new elections".

The Bavaria polls result shattered old certainties for the CSU, which has ruled almost single-handedly for decades in the southern state known for its fairytale castles, Oktoberfest and crucifixes on classroom walls. Since the mass migrant influx, in which Bavaria was Germany's front-line state, the party has hardened its usual folksy beerhall politics with tougher anti-immigration positions.

Nonetheless, the CSU and other mainstream parties suffered heavy losses in last year's general elections to the AfD, which became the first right-wing extremist party to enter the German national Parliament in significant numbers.

The CSU's Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has harshly criticised Dr Merkel and the SPD over their more liberal stance on immigration, repeatedly bringing their alliance to the brink of collapse.

After Sunday's elections, Mr Seehofer, 69, insisted that he would stay on as Dr Merkel's Interior Minister.

The SPD's deputy leader Ralf Stegner told Phoenix TV that "the citizens delivered a resounding slap" to the governing parties.

In Berlin, the GroKo leaders, still stunned by what was widely dubbed Bavaria's electoral earthquake, are now nervously looking ahead to another landmark regional vote at the end of the month.

Voters go to the polls on Oct 28 in central Hesse state, home to financial hub Frankfurt, where surveys show Merkel ally Volker Bouffier will face an uphill battle to stay on as state premier.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2018, with the headline 'Merkel's coalition hit by Bavaria polls debacle'. Print Edition | Subscribe