Major parties do well in German state elections
27 March 2006, BERLIN - The two parties that make up Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition emerged as winners from elections Sunday in three German states. Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) retained power in the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, and the centre- left Social Democrats (SPD) gained an absolute majority in neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate. The Christian Democrats held onto their position as strongest party in the politically volatile eastern state of Saxony-Anhal
27 March 2006
BERLIN - The two parties that make up Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition emerged as winners from elections Sunday in three German states.
Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) retained power in the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, and the centre- left Social Democrats (SPD) gained an absolute majority in neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate.
The Christian Democrats held onto their position as strongest party in the politically volatile eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, but their liberal Free Democrat (FDP) coalition partners saw their share of the vote almost cut in half, opening up the possibility of a CDU- SPD alliance, reflecting the make-up of the federal government in Berlin.
A total of 12 million people were eligible to vote in the elections, the first test at the polls since the grand coalition came to power in November.
CDU Secretary-General Ronald Pofalla said that the outcome of the vote was an endorsement for Merkel and the work of her grand coalition.
"We now know that the electorate will support the future course of the federal government," he said.
With no major national policies taking centre stage, campaigning focused on regional issues including education, improved child care facilities and measures to reduce unemployment.
The CDU fell short of an absolute majority in Baden-Wuerttemberg, where Premier Guenther Oettinger said he would continue his coalition with the FDP. The SPD's share of the vote dropped to a record low of 24.8 per cent in the state, where the CDU has been in power since 1953.
Rhineland-Palatinate will be completely in the grip of Premier Kurt Beck's SPD, which for the first time nailed down an absolute majority after the Greens fell short of the 5 per cent of the vote required for parliamentary representation. The SPD's coalition partner FDP won 8 per cent.
"Such a performance by the SPD in Rhineland-Palatinate is the result of excellent work by the (state) government over many years," said Matthias Platzeck, SPD chairman.
In Saxony-Anhalt, the CDU polled 36.6 per cent, but its coalition partner FDP saw its share of the vote decline from 13.3 to 6.7 per cent, making a continuation of the alliance unlikely.
This would open the door for a grand coalition with the SPD, which came in third at 21.4 per cent, behind the Left party on 24.1 per cent. The Greens and far-right DVU failed to gain enough votes to make it into the parliament.
Saxony-Anhalt, which has the second-highest jobless rate in the country, had voter turnout of 44.4 per cent, a drop of more than 12 percentage points from 2002 elections and the lowest ever in a state election.
The main losers of the day were the FDP, which appeared likely to lose their coalition status in both Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony- Anhalt.
Campaigning in all three states saw the two big parties at pains to avoid acrimonious electioneering that would have damaged their fragile relationship at the national level.
That is likely to change after Sunday's vote, when Merkel is expected to move forward with potentially controversial proposals to reform the labour market and health-care system.
Analysts said it was important for Merkel that both the CDU and SPD did well in the elections. If the SPD had fared badly it could have affected the work of the grand coalition, which is perceived in the electorate as benefiting the CDU at the expense of the SPD.
Subject: German news