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German federal election race changes course as CDU win in Saxony-Anhalt regional election

Germany’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) recorded a victory in last week’s regional election in Saxony-Anhalt. The CDU beat the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), remaining the largest party in the eastern state. Merkel’s CDU took 37% of the vote, followed by the AfD with 21%.

The result may have come as a surprise to some, given that the AfD have typically gained most of their support from Germany’s eastern states, as well as the opinion polls which saw the far-right party winning first place. With only 1 in 5 people in Saxony-Anhalt opting to vote for the AfD, they are unlikely to play a major role in the upcoming federal election.

Das Landtagsgebäude (state parliament building) in Magdeburg, Saxony Anhalt. Photo: Torsten Maue, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The regional election was the third in a series of tests for Germany’s CDU, the current ruling party, in this ‘Superwahljahr’ (super election year). This will conclude with the country’s federal election in September which has the potential to alter the German political landscape greatly. Not only will Angela Merkel be stepping down as chancellor after 16 years, but recent opinion polls and developments also speculate that the CDU will lose ground to the Green Party. The CDU had also experienced losses in the previous regional elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz to the Greens and SPD respectively.

Previously, Saxony-Anhalt had been governed by the CDU, Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Greens, known as a ‘Kenya coalition’ due to the colours associated with the parties. However, the CDU will now switch to a ‘Germany coalition’ with the SPD and Free Democratic Party (FDP) or a ‘Jamaica coalition’ with the FDP and Greens.

The centre-right party will hope that their victory in Saxony-Anhalt can halt the Greens’ momentum in the federal election build-up, given the recent setbacks to the CDU’s progress. The Green party only managed to score 5.9% in Saxony-Anhalt, coming in fifth place.

Many in the CDU were quick to praise their result. General secretary Paul Ziemak described it as “sensationally good”. Others opted to criticise their closest national competitors with the CDU’s Hamburg leader Cristoph Ploss claiming the Greens have “lost their magic”.

Cristoph Ploss and Friedrich Merz, another prominent CDU politician, have both drawn parallels with Annalena Baerbock’s Greens and the derailing of the so-called ‘Schulz train’. Ahead of the 2017 federal election, Martin Schulz and the SPD performed well, similarly to the Greens this year, before losing to the CDU in the regional and federal elections. Merz tweeted, “this evening the Baerbock train derailed”.

There are key differences with the last election though, as the CDU are without Angela Merkel this time and there are still concerns about the strength of their new leader Armin Laschet.

Furthermore, the German population may opt for a change from the stable but arguably stagnant politics of Merkel and Laschet’s CDU. Many people in Germany now consider climate change to be a top policy priority and 30% say they can imagine voting Green.

In response to the result in Saxony-Anhalt, the CDU’s parliamentary leader Ralph Brinkhaus chose to look ahead to the next regional election in Berlin, speaking to broadcaster ARD. This election is particularly important because the Greens are aiming to overtake the CDU and SPD by winning here, after landing fourth place in the 2016 Berlin state election. Meanwhile, the CDU will have to fight another battle in this regional election which will reveal the intentions of the German electorate more accurately than previous ones.

Nevertheless, the result in Saxony-Anhalt has narrowed the gap between the CDU and Greens ahead of September’s federal election. With five months remaining, the only thing that either party can be sure of at the moment is that the race is not over yet.


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