Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018
World

Merkel's troubles increase as party seems to stumble in German regional elections


Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel, the leading candidate of the German Social Democrats (SPD), and his wife voted in the Hessian parliamentary elections on Sunday. Exit polls showed sharp declines for German Christian Democrats, the party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as for the SPD. (Michael Gottschalk / Getty Images)

The once unassailable position of Chancellor Angela Merkel in German politics suffered a new shock Sunday as support for her party fell precipitously into a state that has long spearheaded the nation, showing the expected results.

The election of the parliament of Hesse – seat of Frankfurt, heart of the German finance – gave 27% of the vote to the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) of Merkel, according to the first projection announced Sunday evening by the German networks. It was good enough for first place, but down 11% since the last state vote, in 2013.

Support from Merkel's coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), has also dropped from 31% to 20%.

While the two centrist parties in the country, traditionally dominant, raged, forces multiplied: the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Progressive Greens. The latter was in contention with the SPD for second place.

The result was an almost exact repeat of the results in Bavaria two weeks ago, when the sister party of the CDU, the Christian Social Union (CSU), was humiliated in a state where it has long been rising. After this vote, Merkel's allies blamed the weak immigration results on the right of the CSU.

But Sunday's vote suggests that the image of the CDU has also suffered in a year in which the nation's policy has been dominated by persistent enmity within Merkel's government.

The CDU has ruled Hesse for nearly 20 years and the party has campaigned on an enviable record in extreme unemployment, high salaries and minimal crime.

According to analysts, voters regarded the election as a referendum on the national government and their record of Berlin's performance was mediocre.

The CDU, having suffered its worst result in Hesse for decades, was unclear whether its run to power in the state would continue. The CDU should try to form a coalition with the Greens, but may need others.

If the party abandons control of the state government, it will be seen as a blow for Merkel in anticipation of the CDU's annual conference in December, as she tries to be re-elected as party president. Although the party remained relatively united behind its leader in public, discontent grew as the CDU's fortunes collapsed.

The results in Bavaria and now, apparently, in Hesse reflect national political trends. In the German election last September, the CDU won one-third of the vote, a historically mediocre performance for the party that dominated the country's post-war politics. But current polls show that the CDU does not even win a quarter of the national vote.

Similarly, the SPD has fallen sharply at the national level, with Germany's oldest political party rising from second to fourth behind the Greens and AFD.

Luisa Beck contributed to this report.

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