Thursday, September 8, 2011

State election defeat humiliates Merkel

Elections in the eastern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern on September 4 have handed the conservative government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel another humiliating defeat. 

Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had already suffered five election defeats this year, in Hamburg, Sachsen-Anhalt, Rheinland-Pfalz, Bremen and the highly embarrassing loss of the wealthy conservative southern state of Baden-Württemberg – held by the CDU for sixty years – to the Greens.


The Mecklenburg-Vorpommern defeat was particularly galling for Merkel – who was born in Hamburg and raised in Brandenburg in the former East Germany – because the state includes her own electoral constituency.


On polling day, the CDU could only muster 23.1 percent of the vote, down by more than 5.7 percent since 2006 and its worst result in the state since German unification in 1990.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD) were the clear victors, with 35.7 percent of the vote, an increase of 5.5 percent.


The socialist Die Linke ("The Left") – campaigning on a platform of social justice, democratic rights and action on the environment – won 18.4 percent of the vote.


This was a modest 1.6 percent increase on the 2006 result and it earned the party an extra seat, despite a year of fierce internal debate and ongoing political and media attacks.

SPD leader, Premier Erwin Sellering, now has the choice of continuing to govern in the existing “Grand Coalition” with the CDU, or entering into a coalition with the Die Linke.


While the SPD shared government with Die Linke before 2006, such an alliance appears unlikely this time, despite the fact that the local Die Linke branch is heavily dominated by the “Realo” faction, which favours joining coalition governments.

Die Linke's left wing which is stronger in the western states than the east is highly critical of entering into coalitions where it is forced to compromise its platform and implement neoliberal policies.

The Greens saw a 5 percent swing, giving them 8.5 percent enough to cross the five percent threshold and enter state parliament for the first time.

For the first time ever, the Greens are now represented in every German parliament, both state and federal.


By contrast, the neoliberal fundamentalist Free Democratic Party (FDP) – Merkel's allies in federal coalition government – slumped to a mere 2.7 percent, losing 6.9 percent of the vote and all of their seats in state parliament.


Their poor showing continues a national trend that has seen the FDP slide slowly towards political obscurity over the past couple of years.


Growing voter apathy and disillusionment led to a record low turnout. Only 51.3 percent of the state’s 1.4 million eligible voters bothered to vote – down from 59 percent in 2006 – while some areas barely reached 40 percent participation.


In real terms, this means that every party – except the Greens – actually received less votes than in 2006.


This poor result helped the neo-Nazi German Nationalist Party (NPD) retain its representation in state parliament, despite widespread public criticism of its racist and violent politics and suggestions that it be banned.


While the NPD actually lost support – its share of the vote falling from 7.3 percent in 2006 to only 6 percent – it still managed to cross the parliamentary threshold.


In some rural areas, however, the NPD polled around one-third of the votes. Concerns are also growing about the existence of exclusively neo-Nazi villages where outsiders are driven away, children are taught in nationalist private schools, and locals are involved in paramilitary training.


Growing social inequality in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – Germany’s poorest state – was a key factor in the neo-Nazis retaining support.


Twelve percent of the state’s 1.6 million inhabitants are unemployed – three times the rate in the wealthy southern states – and the state has low high school retention rates and growing youth despondency.


The major parties have been accused of abandoning rural areas, cutting services and ignoring communities hard hit by unification and the recent economic downturn.


Despite Merkel’s attempt to separate the result from her handling of the Euro crisis, Germany’s DAX dropped by several percent when elections results were announced, as did the Euro.


Having survived a legal challenge to the Euro bailout on September 7, Merkel still faces a key parliamentary vote on the European Financial Stability Facility – the mechanism to cope with sovereign debt – on September 23.


The results in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern have weakened an already struggling Merkel, and strengthened the hand of her SPD rivals, who will expect similar successes in state elections in Berlin on September 18, and in federal elections scheduled for 2013.

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