Sun May 13th, 2012 at 11:58:44 AM EST
Today the most populous German state, Northrhine-Westphalia (NRW), is holding snap elections.
The previous elections in 2010 were noteworthy for several reasons, in increasing order of importance:
- the emerging five-party parliament resulted in something unusual for Germany when Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens risked a minority government,
- In the campaign, to help her local comrades of the Christian Democrats (CDU), Chancellor Angela Merkel saw fit to employ xenophobic stereotypes against Southern Europeans, setting the tone of public discussion on the Eurozone crisis ever since;
- It was after these elections and this CDU loss that Merkel buried the tax cut dreams of her Free Democrat (FDP) coalition partners and chose austerity as both domestic and European signature theme.
Austerity was now a main campaign theme (more below the fold). The snap elections were the result of a mis-calculation by the opposition (see Snap elections in NRW
by Katrin for details), as they came when the NRW SPD and Greens soared in the polls. Since then, the situation changed somewhat with the meteoritic rise of the Pirate Party, and a poll bump for the FDP that put them above the 5% limit again. Still, if the last polls
are a good indication, red-green is likely to get majority: the SPD is at 37-38%, the CDU at 30-33%, Greens 10-12%, Pirates 7.5-10%, FDP 5-6%, and the losers of the election, the Left Party, at 3-4%. Update [2012-5-13 12:19:17 by DoDo]:
exit polls indicate the CDU doing much worse and the FDP even better (see comments for the results).
The likely effects of the election: the SPD will be somewhat emboldened, federal environment minister Norbert Röttgen (CDU) who leads the CDU list will have to bury his dreams to succeed Merkel, and Merkel will 'suffer' another 'Pyrrhic defeat'.
From what I saw, the main theme of the election was Röttgen's self-destruction. It started with his refusal to confirm that he'd stay in NRW after the elections to lead the CDU faction in the state parliament, should the party fail to win and remain in opposition.
Austerity came into the picture because the CDU joined the FDP in attempting to paint PM Hannelore Kraft (SPD) and her party as spendthrift. Röttgen however overshot when he declared that the election should be a referendum over Merkel's austerity policy: fellow party leaders reacted saying that he shouldn't make Merkel own his own eventual election defeat. As usual Merkel was more clever than to confront her wannabe crown prince openly, and participated in the last few days of the campaign personally.
Röttgen also produced this blooper (my emphasis):
|Ich meine, ich müsste eigentlich dann Ministerpräsident werden, aber bedauerlicherweise entscheidet nicht allein die CDU darüber, sondern die Wähler entscheiden darüber.||I mean, then I should become prime minister, however, regrettably, that's not solely the decision of the CDU, but the decision of the voters.|
While one can celebrate yet another CDU defeat and Röttgen's demise, IMHO the more significant and more negative part of the expected result will be the performance of the smaller parties: the FDP looks to scrape in again, while the Left Party will exit. The Pirates may be fresh and young, but I don't expect a strong leftist push from them (indeed their Saarland colleagues declared themselves liberal). The FDP's poll bump had two reasons: one, their colleagues in Schleswig-Holstein state (who are led by someone who counts as rebel within the federal party) broke the earlier trend by doing well in last week's state elections (which was another snap election); two, there was much buzz around Christian Lindner, a 33-year-old insufferable yuppie who resigned as general secretary of the federal party last December but was re-activated as list leader for the NRW elections.