German state poll delivers virtual draw

Mon, Jan 21, 2013, 00:00

Germany is facing a tense election year after a state poll in Lower Saxony ended yesterday in deadlock between the two main political camps.

After early exit polls suggested victory for the outgoing centre-right CDU-FDP coalition, first results last night saw the the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens with a narrow lead.

With final results expected today, one winner emerged early on: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP). After months on the critical list, the FDP avoided the expected collapse and even posted modest gains to win 10 per cent of the vote, according to early exit polls.

Vote of confidence

FDP officials in Berlin were quick to pounce on this as a vote of confidence in struggling party leader Philip Rösler. They hope to build on the result to drag the party at federal level up from a record 2 per cent poll low.

“This success in Lower Saxony is Philip Rösler’s success,” said FDP general secretary Patrick Döring.

“The result shows that if we don’t let ourselves be distracted we can deliver a good result.” But the result was overshadowed by significant losses for the FDP’s coalition partner, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), down almost 7 per cent, to just 36 per cent.

“The CDU has remained number one in Lower Saxony,” said half-Scottish state premier David McAllister, making the best of a result well short of his 40 per cent target. “I have some, I think justified, hope of continuing our successful coalition.” Losing power would be a disaster not just for the 42-year-old but also for Dr Merkel, as it would tip the balance of power in favour of the SPD/Greens in the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat.

The SPD posted a minimal gain yesterday while the Greens surged 5.5 per cent, according to early exit polls, leaving the opposition one seat ahead in the Hanover state parliament.

“If we can win as much in the general election that’s the end of Angela Merkel’s rule,” said Green Party co-leader Jürgen Trittin. “We find ourselves playing catch-up.”

The disappointing result for the SPD is likely to stir up debate in Berlin about Mr Peer Steinbrück, the man hoping to unseat Dr Merkel in September for the SPD.

‘No tailwind from Berlin’

“The SPD held themselves stable in Lower Saxony,” said SPD general secretary Andrea Nahles.

But in a nod to the SPD candidate’s stumbling campaign start, she added: “It is clear there was no tailwind from Berlin.”

Even if he survives as state premier in Lower Saxony, the result is unlikely to do any favours for Mr McAllister’s reputation as the man to beat in the Merkel succession stakes.