Monday 21 January 2013

Victory for the German Opposition in Niedersachsen

The Social Democrats and the Greens won a very tight election in Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) last night. Together a Red-Green coalition would have 69 seats in the state parliament to the outgoing, Merkel-aligned government's 68. The election was built up as an early indicator for the federal elections, with the CDU's Prime Ministerial candidate, David McAllister, enjoying a lot of personal support, just like Merkel on the federal level. In the end the CDU lost support, though they're still the biggest party in the Landtag.

The biggest surprise was the results of the liberal FDP party. The FDP were the unpopular junior coalition partner with the CDU in Niedersachsen as well as federally, and there were fears that the party would not have enough votes to cross the 5% threshold needed to get into the state parliament. This crisis mirrors the unpopularity of the FDP federally, and one of Merkel's fears is that her coalition partners may disappear from the Bundestag, leaving the CDU with only the opposition parties as possible coalition partners. In the end the FDP got a boost in Niedersachsen, with 14% of the vote (some CDU voters may have switched to voting FDP to help save them this time around). It's unclear if this unexpected victory will help Philipp Roesler, the FDP's embattled federal leader who has several FDP leaders openly agitating for his removal.

In contrast to the FDP, the Left Party and the Pirate Party failed to get into the state parliament. Meanwhile the Greens doubled their support.

For the Social Democrats' candidate for Chancellor, Peer Steinbrueck, the win will also be a relief. After scandals over being the highest earning MP for extra-parliamentary work, and his poor position in the polls compared to Merkel, the SPD needed a win. Steinbrueck, however, accepted that the federal SPD didn't exactly help the Niedersachsen SPD by giving momentum to their campaign. Steinbrueck faces an uphill struggle himself for popularity. Maybe a lesson to be drawn from Niedersachsen is to promote the party as a whole more so that voters want a Red-Green government, even if they'd prefer Merkel as Chancellor.

With a Red-Green government in Niedersachsen, the opposition have won enough votes in the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament which represents the Laender, to block or stall legislation.

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