Merkel under pressure as FDP bounces back in Hamburg

Christian Democratic Union officials are demanding the party challenge the euro-critical AfD with tougher line on security and migration

Free Liberals (FDP) chairman Christian Lindner gives flowers to Katja Suding, the party’s top candidate in the Hamburg state election, at a meeting in Berlin yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Tim Brakemeier

Free Liberals (FDP) chairman Christian Lindner gives flowers to Katja Suding, the party’s top candidate in the Hamburg state election, at a meeting in Berlin yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Tim Brakemeier

 

After 18 months in the political wilderness, Germany’s liberal Free Democrats have seized on weekend election gains in Hamburg as a welcome last-minute reversal of fortune.

The FDP polled 7 per cent in Germany’s second-largest city, re-entering the Hamburg assembly and ending a disastrous run that began with September 2013’s dramatic Bundestag exit.

For FDP leader Christian Lindner, the win is proof that his crisis-wracked party has rediscovered its liberal “core”

“Without the FDP, a colour is missing from German politics,” said Mr Lindner. “Our party stands for education, economic freedom and an open society.”

Post-election analysis suggest FDP voters were less impressed by the party’s pre-election media stunts than in retaining a pro-business voice.

AfD competing

Following three eastern state election wins last year, the AfD polled 6.1 per cent in Hamburg to enter its first western German parliament.

The Social Democrats (SPD) topped the poll in the party’s northern stronghold with 45.8 per cent, but will need a coalition ally, possible the Greens.

On Sunday evening the FDP handed over the political Schadenfreude crown to Dr Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) after its worst-ever result in Hamburg.

With just 15.9 per cent support, the CDU lost voters in all age groups, especially among traditionally loyal older voters. At a post-mortem meeting in Berlin on Monday, senior CDU officials demanded the party challenge the AfD with a tougher line on security and migration.

Others called on the party to do more to make itself more attractive to urban voters. The CDU has ceded leadership in all of Germany’s top-10 cities to the SPD or Greens, putting unusual pressure on the German leader to explain her political strategy.

The largest numbers of new AfD voters came from the CDU and the non-voter camp. Most were protest voters, they told pollsters, but all shared a conviction in the party’s policy hard lines on migration, Islam and security.

Dr Merkel conceded a “bitter result” but knocked back talk of an urban-rural split, saying her party would pursue a “a consistent programme across Germany” instead of “one strategy for cities and another one for rural areas”.