Sun Jan 27th, 2008 at 05:41:56 PM EST
Another election coverage diary, as voters in the German federal states of Lower Saxony and Hesse choose new state parliaments. The left's showing in the more important of the two, Hesse, will strongly impact the course of federal German, and possibly EU politics.
Can the SPD (Social Democrats) overcome its crisis and take over in Hesse? Can the Left Party establish itself as the fifth main party in Germany?
"Schau 'mer mal", as the Kaiser (Beckenbauer) always said. Polls close 18h CET. Update [2008-1-27 12:3:39 by DoDo]: See exit polls, results in the comments! Update [2008-1-27 17:41:56 by DoDo]: Final Hesse result now in: building a government will be extremely difficult...
1. FACTS: what's this about?
Population: 8 million
Votes in the Bundesrat: 6 (of 69)
Seats in regional parliament: CDU 91, SPD 63, FDP 15, Greens 14 (majority: 92, currently CDU+FDP coalition government)
Prime minister: Christian Wulff
SPD candidate: Wolfgang Jüttner
Lower Saxony boasts the most wind power within Germany. Car-making giant Volkswagen was a semi-state company, Lower Saxony still holds shares. Former chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) was earlier state PM here.
Population: 6.1 million
Votes in the Bundesrat: 5 (of 69)
Seats in regional parliament: CDU 56, SPD 33, Greens 12, FDP 9 (majority: 56, currently CDU government)
Prime minister: Roland Koch
SPD candidate: Andrea Ypsilanti
Frankfurt is a main banking centre, also hosting the European Central Bank. GM-owned car maker Opel is nearby, as is chemical industry giant Hoechst. Former foreign minister Joschka Fischer (Greens) developed from street fighter to politician here.
The Bundesrat (=Federal Council) is the upper house of the federal German parliament. The councillors are representatives of the governments of the 16 federal states, thus regional elections can shift majorities.
Current seats: CDU resp. CSU [Bavarian] 21, CDU/FDP 18; CDU/SPD 12; SPD/CDU 7, SPD 4, SPD/Left Party 3, SPD/Greens 3
Seats at stake now: 6+5 today (Sunday), 3 more on 24 February (Hamburg) elections on 24 February, all CDU or CDU/FDP now
2. POLLS: what to expect?
Lower Saxony: CDU+FDP are expected to get over 50%, so the coalition will probably stay in place even if the Linke should make it. You can check the party's positions against your own at wahlomat.de.
Hesse: Both SPD+Greens and CDU+FDP are expected to get around 45%. If the Linke makes it over the 5% threshold, there has to be a non-traditional coalition, so it's very important for both SPD and CDU to get the most seats in order to have the prime-minister and becoming able to choose their partner(s).
3. PARTIES, PERSONS, COALITIONS
Both Wulff and Koch are high-profile leaders in the CDU (Christian Democrats) and a loss would hurt them badly. Both states are traditionally contested between CDU and SPD (not "naturally" leaning to either party).
As DoDo pointed out, there's been a shift in the strategy of the Social Democrats after Schröder went away and the party plummeted in the polls while the new left rose. They're coming back to traditional leftist positions and candidates, as Ypsilanti and Jüttner exemplify. An SPD win in Hesse would be a comeback that seemed unlikely even a few months ago and give the Social Democrats further momentum for the next elections.
For the Linke (Left Party), it could very well be the first time they're getting seats in any Western Flächenstaat (states which aren't cities). As long as Lafontaine is one of their leaders, a coalition with the SPD seems impossible, even when they've already agreed to tolerate a red-green minority coalition in Hesse.
At the moment, the fact that Germany turns into a five party- system only increases the chances for yet another unwanted Grand Coalition.
Greens and FDP (Free Democrats, economic-liberals) fight for the third place, nothing new here. However, the green candidate in Hesse, Tarek Al-Wazir, is the shooting star of the campaign so far. We'll see if he can really get the votes out.
As far as the CDU is concerned, Merkel wins either way. She can get rid of her rival Koch and Wulff's position may be weakened. If the CDU wins on the other hand, it's mostly due to her popularity. Wulff's aiming for the second spot in the party hierarchy.
All in all, the Grand Coalition creates some strange dynamics. SPD and CDU/CSU run ever more fiercely against each other while still being forced to cooperate on day-to-day federal politics.
States are in control over education policy (the so-called Kulturhoheit), so this is the most important issue in almost any state-level election. All states governed by the right have adopted tuition fees for their universities which the left wants to undo.
The old three- or two-tiered school system is also under attack from the left, the alternative proposed relies on integrated Gesamtschulen and more lessons in the afternoon (Ganztagsschulen).
As you've probably noticed, Koch tried to bring security/ criminal youths into the debate, in the disgusting fashion that's so typical for him, but that backfired.
The Greens want to go from nuclear and coal power to renewable energy, the FDP wants to lower taxes (especially on corporations), the SPD wants a minimum wage and the Linke wants to sack the Schröder reforms, all business as usual, but most of these proposals have to be decided on the federal level. There are some local issues like the building of a new Autobahn in Lower Saxony and the third runway for Frankfurt Airport, but I don't know much about that.
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There's a real chance that we'll be seeing the end of corrupted little maniac Roland Koch, so I'm repeating what DoDo said: fingers crossed.