Sun Feb 24th, 2008 at 11:58:37 AM EST
The city-state of Hamburg chooses a new parliament on Sunday - and all bets are off.
Population: 1.8 million
Votes in the Bundesrat: 3 (of 69)
Seats in the Bürgerschaft (state parliament): CDU 63, SPD 41, Greens 17 (majority: 61, CDU government)
Erster Bürgermeister (mayor/ prime minister): Ole von Beust
SPD candidate: Michael Naumann (former federal minister of culture)
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Some random facts about Hamburg:
- known as Germany's "gateway to the world" because of its port's long history from the Hanseatic league on (still the second largest in Europe after Rotterdam)
- traffic plate reads HH for "Hansestadt Hamburg" (not for the old- fashioned greeting you might associate)
- famous for its red- lights district ("Kiez" or "Reeperbahn"), with some streets you're not allowed to enter under the age of 18
- home of a rich "alternative subculture" with many squatters, punks and the notoriously leftist quarter St.Pauli (also known for its highly likable football club)
- fourth richest EU region (GDP per capita) after London, Brussels and Luxemburg
- biggest city in the EU that isn't a capital
- home of Lufthansa, Beiersdorf (Nivea), the German part of Airbus and a lot of publishing companies (BILD, Welt, Spiegel, Zeit, Stern)
- Traditionally a SPD stronghold, home of former chancellor Helmut Schmidt
- one of the few major cities in western Europe I've never been to
2. THE ISSUES
As usual in a city-state, most election issues are local. Transport and environment are particularly big topics this time, with a proposed autobahn to bridge the Elbe river and close the circle around the city, the fiercely disputed building of a new coal power plant, the planned deepening of the Elbe to suit even bigger ships, the new "Hafen City" quarter (modeled after the London docks), the enlargement of the Airbus runway that many locals resist and the proposed fee for cars to enter the city center (think London, again). Social issues (privatizing hospitals, free kindergarten), security (CCTV, youth crime) and education (tuition fees, school structure) also play a role. The parties' positions are pretty much what you'd expect them to be. If you understand German, you can check them against your own here.
Note: The Greens are called Grün-Alternative Liste (GAL) in Hamburg, it's a kind of election alliance between regular Greens and activists further on the left (think Nordic Green Left).
3. WHY HAMBURG IS NOT HESSE
If the polls are to be believed, it's basically the same setup as in Hesse: both CDU+FDP and SPD+GAL are around 45% and the Linke plays the coalition spoiler with around 8%. Some things are different, however:
- The FDP hovers just above 5%. If they don't make it, red-green might still snatch a narrow victory.
- "Black-green" (CDU+GAL) would have a majority. This has never been tried on state level before, but can be seen in some city districts.
- As the GAL is nearer to the Linke than the Greens usually are, a tolerated red-green minority government would theoretically be easier to accomplish.
- Finally, a grand coalition is much more likely, because the front lines between SPD and CDU aren't as hardened. Looks like the most probable outcome.
4. FORGET EVERYTHING I'VE SAID BEFORE
But - no, wait - BUT a lot has happened in the last few days. First, the CEO of Deutsche Post, born-as-multimillionaire Klaus Zumwinkel, has more or less confessed to be involved in what is already the biggest tax evasion scandal to ever hit Germany. Several thousand business leaders are investigated after the secret service BND purchased data on secret bank accounts of Germans in Liechtenstein from a dubious source (link from the Salon, Almanax' diary).
All MSM commentators seem to fear that this scandal will help the Linke, which has condemned this apparently widespread practice for years. I doubt the topic will overshadow the local issues, but who knows?
Then, SPD chief Beck hinted at the possibility of a tolerated minority government of the left in Hesse. Quote (from memory): "We will not seek active support from the Linke." This caused a lot of commentators to blame the SPD for breaking the promises made before the election. Predictably, the parties on the right now try to turn "stop the communists!" into their main election message.
Again, no one knows if it'll work.
So, the polls could be off target in many ways. Even the CDU+FDP coalition is still possible.