Sun Sep 28th, 2008 at 12:25:30 PM EST
The local version of Weißwurst ( = veal sausage, lit. white sausage) is a Munich speciality. Weißwurstäquator is a jestful designation of a supposed intra-German cultural barrier: those below it supposedly all talk differently (Upper German dialects), dress differently, are more traditional, conservative, and Catholic; are of a more cheerful nature, eat heavier food & drink lots of beer, and just think differently (speak: they're all a little bit goofy down there! sez one North German to another). I use the term in its most general sense, e.g. all of Southern Germany and Austria (though it more commonly refers to Old Bavaria, e.g. what's South of the Danube).
Today, Austria holds snap federal elections; while the German state of Bavaria holds its regular regional elections.
There are two things common in the two elections: on one hand, an outcome with the same parties in government as before is almost assured; on the other hand, the campaigns were still loud, with some strong controversies, and much attention to the performance of some smaller parties.
Update [2008-9-28 17:53:14 by DoDo]: preliminary results & seat distribution.
The dress question
Bavaria used to be one of the poorest states of Germany, with a very agrarian economy. Well, most of the countryside is still the same, but the region of Munich and some others made Bavaria one of the richest statest of Germany -- resulting in a situation of a perpetual right-wing majority enjoying the tax income of a more leftist capital.
That majority belongs to the Christian Socialists (CSU): with a platform of championing local interests, an 'uneroded' social conservatism, a Christian sense of the welfare state, and (more recently) strategic support for high-tech business, they ruled Bavaria with absolute majority practically since WWII. (At the federal level, they are in a permament alliance with the Christian Democrats [CDU]: the latter run in the 15 other German states only, the CSU only in Bavaria.)
A majority for the CSU is not in threat today, either. Especially with the ongoing crisis of the Social Democrats (SPD) -- who go into this election with the same leader with whom they got their worst-ever result last time. However, under the new leadership of arch-conservative law-and-order PM Günther Beckstein and neolib party boss Erwin Huber (see Stoiber goes on the rise of both), despite heavy rhetoric (see "Immigrant youth crime": from campaign theme to blowback for the German Right for a taste of Beckstein), CSU is expected to fall back by more than 10 points. Sparing myself some writing, I quote from a diary posted as comment by nanne:
The dopey-looking xenophobe and tireless promoter of surveillance Günther Beckstein looks like he might just pull off retaining the absolute majority of the CSU.
The latest poll has the CSU at 49%, which should be enough to scrape by without having to deal with the liberal FDP, who despite agreeing with a lot on the CSU, tend to marginally value privacy. Which would be uncomfortable for Beckstein. However, previous polls show some potential on the downside for the CSU. The range in which they have recently polled is between 47% and 50%.
In the previous election, Stoiber got them more than 60%.
The SPD is not capitalising on the decline of the CSU, it is polling only about 1% higher than its result in the last election. Which was the worst ever, at just under 20%. They'll need a shakeup after the election. It's incredible that Franz Maget is still their frontrunner after having led them through that disaster.
The Greens are polling slightly better, between 8 and 11 percent. In the last election, they got just under 8%. With a bit of luck, they should make it into the double digits. The FDP is winning more, passing the 5% hurdle after having polled less than 3% in the last election. They're now polling between 6 and 9 percent.
The Left party is on the brink of getting into the Landtag. It had been consistently polling at 4% in recent weeks, but gets over the 5% hurdle in the latest poll. The localist Freie Wähler (free voters) group, meanwhile, should get in this time around, as they are polling between 5 and 8 percent.
So, what was the campaign about? At federal level, the CSU is loudly combatting the CDU over tax cuts and a reinstatement of subsidies for commuting [a mis-directed support scheme if there is one, I think]. But, it was with even more noise that the CSU turned into Crusaders - against the Left Party (for the reason see nanne above). Yet, that still wasn't the top campaign issue issue. As lacordaire reported from the ground:
2 pages yesterday in the local daily: will the wife of Beckstein (the Bavarian Premier) dress in "dirndl" (the traditionnal thing by the televised opening of Oktoberfest? She already said she won´t...
And don´t illude you: it is really important. As I was reading the article, a group of women sitting in the ar were speaking animately about it.
Politics is a funny job.
And indeed, Beckstein's wife (who is from Lower, e.g. Northern Bavaria) turned up in 'normal' dress.
Polls closed at 18h CET. The first estimates show an unexpectedly dramatic fall for the CSU, but the Left Party just below the 5% threshold. Current projections from public TV ARD's site:
| ||2008 result||2003 result|
|Party||total vote share||seats||total vote share||seats|
|Free Voters' Group||10.24%||21||4.01%||-|
|Left Party|| 4.35%||-||-||-|
|Republicans (far-right)|| 1.38%||-||2.24%||-|
You see the six overhang mandates: apart from one Munich district, all directly elected MPs are still from the CSU. Note that while everywhere in Germany, people have two votes (one for local election district representatives, one for party lists), as a speciality of Bavarian elections, the above percentages are for the sum of local representative and list votes (a measure favoring major parties).
Haider returns but is eclipsed
Austria was governed by a Grand Coalition of the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the conservative People's Party (ÖVP). After a lot of friction and poll damage especially for the SPÖ, SPÖ chancellor Gusenbauer arranged for an orderly withdrawal and succession in the person of Werner Faymann, who achieved a turnaround in polls, blew up the coalition, and called new elections.
While the end result will in all likelihood be another Grand Coalition; some issues were:
- The SPÖ's new line on the EU, which is more democratic on the surface, but looks in every way like a sop to the Turkey-not-in-the-EU crowd and to a lesser extend Eurosceptics (for more, see Austrian Elections 2008: The Background by nanne, and Austrian Election 2008: A Supplemental by generic).
- The return in force of the far-right. On one hand, the FPÖ, a onetime liberal party which Jörg Harder used to turn far-right, is big again under new management: led by the younger, even more photogenous and even more toxic Heinz-Christian Strache (right). On the other hand, Haider, who wanted to kill his own party by leaving it and forming a new one (BZÖ), with little success in the last elections, is now back, too.
- Minimum election age was lowered to 16 (see The Austrian Experiment.... by Metatone).
Polls closed at 18h. The depressing first results showed major gains for the two far-right formations (5% or major local success needed to enter parliament). With the count almost finished (follow it at public TV ORF's site) it doesn't look any better:
| ||2008 result||2006 result|
|Party||total vote share||seats||total vote share||seats|
|LiF|| 1.91%||-||- (joint list with SPÖ)||1|
|FRITZ (party of a local populist)|| 1.76%||-||-||-|
|KPÖ (Communists)|| 0.77%||-||1.01%||-|