Local government voteraises SPD's hopes
27 September 2004 , BERLIN – German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrat Party (SPD) have seized on regional elections in the nation's biggest state as a sign of a turnaround in the party's political fortunes.
27 September 2004
BERLIN – German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrat Party (SPD) have seized on regional elections in the nation's biggest state as a sign of a turnaround in the party's political fortunes.
While support for the SPD dropped to its lowest level in regional elections in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, a stronghold of Schroeder's party, the fall was less than feared with the opposition Christian Democrats suffering an even larger drop in its vote.
"This is not a result that gives us cause to celebrate, but it's a good basis on which to work," SPD chief Franz Muentefering, told German television. "We have seen clearly in recent weeks that the atmosphere has improved, and so we were able to keep the result nearly stable."
The North Rhine-Westphalia election follows a series of state polls in Germany which have resulted in support for the SPD taking a hammering as a result of Schroeder's tough welfare and labour market reform agenda and a protracted period of economic stagnation.
But coming in the wake of a better-than-expected result in two east German state elections the weekend before, Sunday's weekend results have helped to raise hopes in the SPD that the party might now be able to hold on to North Rhine-Westphalia in a key state election set down for May next year.
The elections results over the two last weekends have also thrown into doubt what was a previously foregone conclusion that CDU would easily win the next national poll in September 2004.
Moreover, the elections held over the last two weekend also come amid opinion polls showing support for Schroeder and his SPD starting to creep up and the electorate beginning to swing in behind his reforms, which includes cuts in benefits for the long-term unemployed.
Indeed, while the CDU garnered the most votes in the North Rhine-Westphalia elections, the party suffered a more than seven per cent swing with the party's vote dropping to 43.2 percent from five years ago.
A downcast CDU chief Angela Merkel insisted that despite the fall in the CDU vote, support the regional elections showed support for her party was still more than the combined vote for the SPD and their national Green Party coalition partners.
The Social Democrats dropped to 31.6 percent after a swing of 2.3 percent.
But the slippage was less severe, compared with the 1999 local elections, when the SPD had plunged 8.4 percent to 33.9 percent.
The Greens, the SPD's coalition partner also in North Rhine-Westphalia, climbed to 10.2 percent, up from 7.3 percent in 1999.
The liberal Free Democrats (FDP) took 6.8 percent, up from 4.3 percent.
All remaining parties representing extreme splinter groups on the left and right gained around 6.9 percent with the former communist Party of Democratic Socialism which only a week ago had scored well in the east managed to garner only 1.4 per cent of the vote.
All four main parties in their initial reactions to the early results put positive spin on the results, coming eight months before the state parliamentary elections in May 2005.
Juergen Ruettgers, head of the state's CDU, proclaimed that Sunday's results meant that in 2005, the current government would be sent packing.
"Next year it will be final curtains for Red-Green in Dusseldorf," Ruettgers told German television.
Echoing Muentefering's comments, Harald Schartau, the state's SPD party leader, hailed the early results as indicating that his party had steadied itself and stopped its downward spiral.
"The CDU has lost," Schartau said, adding that his own party's trend was positive. He was particularly happy with early results showing that the SPD had regained the lead over the CDU in the Ruhr industrial city of Dortmund, where the SPD had lost five years ago.
"The party has got its bite back," Schartau said of the SPD.
The leader of the Greens party in North Rhine-Westphalia, Frithjof Schmidt, described as a "super result" the nine per cent result in the early projections.
"We are heading towards double digits," he told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa. "I am very happy with this result."
Guido Westerwelle, the nationwide head of the FDP, also expressed pleasure at the liberals' showing, saying the party had now been given a boost for next May's state parliament elections.
[Copyright DPA with Expatica]
Subject: German news