CDU wins Saxony, but faces tougher road in two weeks’ time

tillichmerkel

It’s not necessarily that Saxony is shifting to the right, as The Economist wrote earlier this week about the results of last Sunday’s state elections in Saxony.Germany Flag Iconsaxony

It’s more that right-leaning voters are switching allegiances from one party to another, not unlike similar shifts in western Germany and at the federal level. 

Though the Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Union) will have to find a new junior coalition partner, there’s no doubt that it will continue to govern under minister-president Stanislaw Tillich (pictured above with German’s chancellor Angela Merkel), who won his second reelection after assuming the office in May 2008. 

Neither its junior partner in the outgoing government, the liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), nor the neo-Nazi Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD, National Democratic Party) met the 5% hurdle to return their legislators to  Saxony’s 126-seat state parliament, the Landtag.

Many of their voters appear to have supported the newly formed, anti-euro Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany) instead, which won 9.7%, making them the fourth-largest party in the Landtag with 14 seats. 

saxony 2014

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None of this news, however, was unpredictable, because the results largely lined up with polls. 

The election was most disastrous for the Free Democrats, a party that, it’s not an exaggeration to say, faces political extinction.  Though the FDP made some of its strongest gains in its history in  2009 at both the federal and at state levels, it’s been facing backlash  for the past four years. In last September’s federal elections, it lost all 93 of its seats in the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, shut out for the first time in postwar history. Now that it’s lost all of its seats in Saxony’s Landtag, it will no longer be a part of any state government, a massive turn for a party that just one year ago controlled the German foreign ministry, among other portfolios. It now holds seats in just eight of 16 state assemblies, a number that could drop to six if it wins less than 5% of the vote in upcoming September 14 elections in Brandenburg and Thuringia. 

The AfD, also a party with center-right tendencies, is best known for its relatively eurosceptic stand, even if its euroscepticism is muted by the standards of the United Kingdom, France and even The Netherlands.

In winning nearly 10% of the vote on Sunday, the AfD will now enter its first — and almost certainly not its last — state parliament. Its hesitant tone on European monetary union isn’t so far from some elements of the FDP or even the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christlich-Soziale Union (CSU, the Christian Social Union) in its call for a smaller currency union. Also like the Free Democrats, the AfD has adopted economically liberal positions on fiscal policy. But it’s also endorsed social views, such as opposition to same-sex marriage, that make it far less socially liberal than the FDP, whose former leader, former vice-chancellor and foreign minister Guido Westerwelle is openly gay.

But except for what appears to be a shift from FDP supporters to the AfD, not a lot is going to change in Saxony’s Landtag for the three largest parties.  

saxony landtag

The Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Union) won just 0.8% less than it did in the most recent 2009 elections, and it netted one additional seat. The center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) gained a full 2.0% and four seats, while the more socialist Die Linke (Left Party) dropped 1.7% and lost two seats.

Though Tillich didn’t officially rule out a coalition with the AfD until after the election campaign on Monday, he seems almost certain to form a government with the SPD, mirroring the ‘grand coalition’ that governs nationally under Merkel. But a more audacious coalition might be a ‘green-black’ partnership with Die Grünen (the Greens), a long overdue combination in German politics. 

Merkel and other leading national voices within the CDU heaped withering criticism upon  the AfD this week:

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, of the CDU, told broadcaster Phoenix: “In the AfD there are many that I would call the losers of modernisation, who cannot come to terms with the modern world.”

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The AfD’s breakthrough came with greater support than expected, and it launched Frauke Petry (pictured above), the AfD’s lead candidate in Saxony and a chemist by profession, into the top tier of rising German politicians on the right. But its 9.7% share of the vote entitled it to less than 10% of the seats in Saxony’s Landtag. As far as revolutions go, the AfD’s triumph is barely a ripple. It still failed to win seats in the Bundestag last September or in Hessian state elections. 

Despite the CDU’s easy win, it will be playing defensive on September 14, when the one-of-a-kind SPD-Left coalition seeks reelection in Brandenburg. Although the CDU currently governs in coalition with the SPD in Thuringia, there’s wide speculation that the SPD could form a government as the junior partner to the Left, giving the German socialists their first-ever minister-presidency.

Petry photo credit to Rainer Jensen / dpa.

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