Elections in Thuringia

by Barbara Waldner
Lack of majorities in the middle demands for new solutions

Lack of majorities in the middle demands for new solutions

The left party LINKE and the populist AfD are the winners of the elections in Thuringia – a symbol for the increased polarisation in the region and elsewhere. As parties of the centre-right and centre-left become weaker in Thuringia, they need to draw consequences for their federal policy-making.

Coalitions not yet considered possible become a realistic power option

On Sunday, 27 October, the regional elections in Thuringia shook up the political landscape. The left party LINKE won with 31%, making it the strongest party in a regional election for the first time in history. The AfD secured the runner-up position with 23.4% having gained 12.8 percentage points. The CDU, who had been the strongest party in the Bundesland since the German reunification, found themselves on the third place with 21.8%. The SPD scored historically badly in Thuringia with a result of 8.2%. For Germany's oldest party, this result marks the end of a painful electoral year. The Greens (with 5.2%) and the FDP (5%) will also be represented in the state parliament.

Bodo Ramelow’s (LINKE) victory still means that his currently reigning coalition between LINKE, SPD and Greens does not produce a majority anymore. Coalition formation will be difficult: The first option which could save the reigning coalition in some way, is to extend this coalition by one party, the FDP. Thuringia is the only of the five Eastern Bundesländer, in which the FDP has succeeded to score seats in the state parliament. Albeit this, being a viable option, one must not forget the difficulties which come with a coalition of four parties, as ideological differences will hinder consensus-building. Not surprisingly, FDP-Spitzenkandidat Thomas Kemmerich had ruled out a coalition with the LINKE in the run-up to the elections, stating he only wanted to collaborate on certain issues. Similarly, the second mathematically possible option, a coalition between the CDU and the LINKE, had been rejected by CDU Spitzenkandidat Mike Mohring, but no majorities in the centre of the political spectrum demands for new solutions. A new solution – and this is increasingly becoming a realistic option – a minority government between LINKE, CDU and SPD, tolerated by the CDU. Time will tell what coalition partners the LINKE will choose – the catch: in Thuringia, the state government formation period is not limited by a deadline. This means that current Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow (LINKE) is in no rush to form a government, as he remains in power politically for the time being.

Electoral results that shook up federal politics

This election has already had some serious repercussions for federal politics. Bodo Ramelow's victory only partially masks the crisis of the Left Party. In the elections in the former strongholds of Saxony and Brandenburg, the party had to cope with great losses, which leads to a federal average of 8% of total votes in all regions. Given the volatility, it is far from certain that this will lead to a secure return to the Bundestag in the next election. In addition, the party is struggling with a power vacuum since Sahra Wagenknecht has resigned as party leader in spring. The crisis of the party comes at an inopportune time, as a red-red-green coalition on the federal level becomes increasingly likely.

Moreover, the CDU’s losses on the regional level are translating into problems on the federal level. After the election debacle, CDU party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s  mandate was questioned both from within the party through the members of the Junge Union (the joint youth organization of the two German parties CDU and CSU), as well as from outside by Wolfgang Kubicki from the FDP. The CDU party conference on 7 December will show the real repercussions of the three regional elections in the past months.