Following election losses, SPD leader questions German ruling coalition

Leader of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) Andrea Nahles gives a press statement after first exit polls during the Hesse state elections at the party's headquarters in Berlin on 28 October 2018. [EPA-EFE/OMER MESSINGER]

In a fresh blow for Chancellor Angela Merkel, her CDU conservatives and the social-democrats from the SPD suffered major losses in the regional elections in Hesse on Sunday (29 October), prompting SPD party leader Andrea Nahles to question the future of the national ruling coalition.

The losses in Hesse, western Germany, come after similar weak showing in Bavaria a fortnight ago. At the same time, only the Greens benefited from the wide dissatisfaction with the national coalition government to improve their result in Hesse.

“The government’s situation is unacceptable,” SPD leader Andrea Nahles said at the Willy-Brandt-House, the party headquarter in Berlin, shortly after the exit polls showed the social-democrats recorded their worst performance in the Hesse region since 1946.    

The conservatives from the CDU/CSU must quickly set aside their conflicts, she said, adding that the SPD does not want to put its fate in their hands but rather wants to ensure that the ruling coalition gives a clear and binding roadmap in the coming months.

If the implementation is not successful until the government’s mid-term review, “the SPD must consider whether the government is still the right place” for the party, Nahles said. 

She said she would submit a proposal to the party executive on 30 October.

Speaking on the German television, SPD member of parliament Karl Lauterbach did not exclude his party leaving the ruling coalition.

«We now have to check very clearly whether we still have a common working ground with the conservatives and whether we can very quickly come to a fundamentally different way of working in the grand coalition,» he said.

«If we can not do that, then it can’t work any longer and that would mean there will be no long-term perspective for the grand coalition,» he said.

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“Of course today is not an easy day for the …

Neck and neck race

According to estimates at 8 pm, the CDU came in first with 27.4% of the votes, down 10.5% from its 2013 result. The Greens and SPD are neck and neck with 19.5% each.

“We are very shocked. We did not expect this result. The SPD is in a deep crisis of confidence and credibility and that is something that needs to be worked on,” said Nancy Faeser, Secretary General of the SPD in Hesse.

Sunday’s elections made the Greens the biggest winner as the party scored its best performance ever in the region.

“Hesse has never been as green as it is today,” said top candidates Tarek Al-Wazir and Priska Hinz.

The far-right AfD reached 12.5%, up 8.4%, meaning the party is from now on represented in all 16 German state parliaments.

Liberals from the FDP won 7.9%, up 2,9%, in a region that hosts Germany’s financial capital, Frankfurt am Main.

The left party, Die Linke, will also be represented in the regional parliament, having captured 6% of votes.

Green Party ends conservative CSU’s 61-year political dominance in Bavaria

In a vote it called “historic”, the Green Party ended the absolute majority of conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria on Sunday (14 October) and became the second strongest political force in a state election whose result will resonate in Berlin and beyond and further dent Chancellor Angela Merkel’s position.

Putting the blame on Berlin

The regional leaders of both CDU and SPD put the blame for their major losses on the weak national government in Berlin.

Their position was corroborated by a survey released after the exit polls, showing that a half of respondents said they had used their vote to send a message to Berlin.

The two parties blamed the conflicts within the government over migration policy, implicitly pointing the finger at Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, the head of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU. 

Both the CDU conservatives and Social Democrats face committee meetings next Sunday, where heated discussions are expected following the debacle in Bavaria and Hesse.

The CDU will also hold a party conference 6-8 December, where Chancellor Merkel must decide whether to run for another term as the party chairwoman.

In 2004, then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat, gave up the chairmanship of the SPD in a bid to save his chancellorship. The following year, he narrowly lost the election to Angela Merkel.

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Two weeks after Jean-Claude Juncker’s speech in Strasbourg triggered kick-off debates in the European Parliament about the 2019 elections, the party of Emmanuel Macron – one of the most closely watched politicians in Europe – officially launches its campaign outside France in Berlin on Saturday (29 September).

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