Bavarian poll result stuns German conservatives

29th September 2008, Comments 0 comments

The sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) saw its decades-old absolute majority melt away.

Berlin -- Dramatic losses suffered by the ruling Christian Social Union (CSU) in state elections Sunday in Bavaria have ramifications well beyond the borders of Germany's largest state.

The sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) saw its decades-old absolute majority melt away as voters defected to smaller parties.

A swing of nearly 18 percentage points saw the party slump to around 43.5 percent of the vote in its worst performance in the staunchly Catholic state since 1954.

The shockwaves reached as far as Berlin, where Merkel rules in an uneasy grand coalition with the left-of-centre Social Democrats (SPD).

Analysts said that the outcome could increase tension between the coalition partners and hurt Merkel's chances of retaining power in federal elections scheduled for September 2009.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who has been picked by the SPD to challenge Merkel for the chancellorship, said the vote had far-reaching implications.

"We are not talking about an election result," he said, "but about an earthquake that has been unleashed by this election in Bavaria."

But he forgot to mention that his party's own performance of just over 18 percent was also its worst-ever showing in the prosperous state of laptops and lederhosen.

"The people have shown that they want a CSU-led government, but that they do not want the CSU to govern Bavaria alone," said Prime Minister Guenther Beckstein, who was elected last year after a party revolt ended the career of longtime party leader Edmund Stoiber.

Beckstein, a 64-year-old Protestant, said he would immediately start to look for a coalition partner. The most likely contenders are the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), who polled 7.5 percent to enter parliament after an absence of 14 years.

Another possibility is the Free Voters, a conservative party that is making its debut in the legislature in Munich after winning 10.4 per cent on a campaign seeking greater local power.

The Greens also entered Parliament with around 9 percent, but the pro-labor Left Party polled less than the 5 percent needed for representation after good showings in other state elections.

Analysts said that voters punished the CSU for clinging to traditional social values and Catholic Church doctrine in a Europe that has become increasingly secular.

It did not help that Beckstein and party Chairman Erwin Huber lacked the charisma of Stoiber and failed to galvanize voters to support a fresh vision.

The CSU's good showing in Bavaria in the 2004 general election helped elevate Merkel to power after the CDU was unable to win enough votes to form a coalition with the FDP.

The liberals are eyeing a coalition with the CDU at the national level next year, but shifting alliances in the party landscape could make a wider alliance possible.

Recent state elections have seen coalitions between the CDU and Greens in Hamburg, and the SPD eyeing an alliance with the Greens and the Left in Hesse, where there is a minority CDU caretaker government.

The defeated SPD candidate in Bavaria, Franz Maget, even suggested a four-party coalition to unseat the CSU, arguing that the ruling party had morally lost the right to govern.

While the Greens said they would support such a move, the FDP said it was not interested in "a gaudy coalition of anarchists."

-- Mike Swanson/Expatica/DPA

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