Schroeder faces likelystate election disaster
1 September 2004 , BERLIN - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats are likely to suffer a bitter defeat in regional Saar state elections Sunday amid anger over planned cuts to jobless benefits, polls show. The Social Democrats (SPD) have been thrashed in recent elections in the Laender - Germany's federal states - and the Christian Democrats (CDU) seem headed for easy re-election in the tiny, western Saar state which borders France and Luxembourg. The Christian Democrats (CDU), which serve
1 September 2004
BERLIN - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats are likely to suffer a bitter defeat in regional Saar state elections Sunday amid anger over planned cuts to jobless benefits, polls show.
The Social Democrats (SPD) have been thrashed in recent elections in the Laender - Germany's federal states - and the Christian Democrats (CDU) seem headed for easy re-election in the tiny, western Saar state which borders France and Luxembourg.
The Christian Democrats (CDU), which serve as the main opposition in Berlin, would currently win over 50 percent in the Saar according to polls, in contrast to Schroeder's SPD which is projected to get 30 percent.
This contrasts with Saar CDU Premier Peter Mueller's slim victory over the SPD five years ago when his party took 45.5 percent, compared to 44.4 percent for the SPD.
Mueller has made a name for himself as a reformer, slashing back Germany's notorious bureaucracy, shortening the state's high school from the 13 years to 12 years needed for graduation and calling for loosening Germany's tough laws on sacking employees.
Schroeder's SPD is traditionally more left-wing in the Saar than at the national level and its candidate, Heiko Maas, wants state measures to bolster the declining coal mining sector and build up automotive manufacturing.
The Schroeder government's planned cuts to jobless benefits have hit support for the SPD among traditional left-wing voters and are the target of weekly protests which last Monday drew 70,000 people.
The Saar is the home of former SPD leader and leftist darling Oskar Lafontaine who briefly served under Schroeder as finance minister before resigning in anger over government policy.
Lafontaine has since become a bitter critic of Schroeder but his support for the possible creation of a new left-leaning party has seemingly reduced his influence in the Saar election.
"I would have wished for more support (from Lafontaine) than has been the case... ," said Schroeder in an ARD TV interview, adding bitterly: "Everybody should have the same chance to discredit themselves."
For Chancellor Schroeder a defeat in the Saar would be a blow which could set the tone for further elections in the eastern states of Brandenburg and Saxony on 19 September.
In Brandenburg, polls show the former East German communists - the Party of Democratic Socialism - have overtaken the SPD to lead with the CDU trailing in third place.
Meanwhile, in Saxony the ruling CDU may lose its majority but polls give the SPD scant chances of taking control of the state.
The biggest worry are local elections on 26 September in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia. An SPD defeat here could pave the way for the SPD state government to be tossed out of office in state elections next 22 May.
This would be meltdown for Schroeder not merely because the state is a traditional SPD stronghold. More crucially, this would give the Christian Democratic alliance a two-thirds majority in the upper house in Berlin - the Bundesrat - where it could block all federal government legislation.
There is speculation such a defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia could prompt the resignation of Schroeder in advance of Germany's planned next general election in 2006.
But some analysts suggest Schroeder could soldier on to 2006, helped by growing differences among the Christian Democratic ruled Laender and between the CDU and its arch-conservative Bavarian wing, the Christian Social Union (CSU).
Asked about his party's low standing in opinion polls, Schroeder replied: "Of course this concerns me ... but the reform path is the right way to go and we have to do it - now."
Subject: German news