Five take aways from the Hesse state election
On Sunday, the citizens of the state of Hesse went to polls to elect a new state parliament. Two facts made the election extraordinarily interesting:
Firstly, Hesse has, in the past, functioned as a political “laboratory” for new political alliances. For example, Hesse was the first state governed by a “red-green” coalition consisting of Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens. It provided a blueprint for a similar coalition under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder a couple of years later. This time, a reversed version of this coalition was one of many possibilities that couldn't be ruled out in advance.
Secondly, the campaigns and media reporting prior to the election was dominated by national issues and thus transformed the election into a referendum on the work of the “grand coalition” (GroKo).
Both the conservatives (CDU) and the Social Democrats suffered a substantial loss. The CDU finished with 27 per cent, losing more than 11 per cent compared to the previous election five years ago, whilst the SPD won only 19,8 per cent of the vote also losing roughly 11 per cent. However, the result was less critical than it could have been, especially compared to several predictions voiced by political pundits prior to the election. For the time being, it should quieten fears of imminent coalition collapse at the federal level.
The winners of the evening were the Greens who managed to gain 19,8 per cent of the vote as well as the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) with 13,1 per cent, tripling their result from the previous election in 2013. Liberals (FDP) are up 2,5 per cent gaining 7,5 per cent of the vote whilst the Left Party reached a result of 6,3 per cent.
What's next at state level?
As of now, the continuation of the coalition in Hesse between the CDU and the Greens seems to be the most likely result of the election. However, the alliance would only be able to govern with a very thin majority of one vote, thus giving each member of the state parliament a substantial amount of power. An alliance between CDU and SPD would also be possible.
What are the implications for national politics?
As the election was dominated by national rather than local issues, many voters saw it as a referendum on the work of the federal coalition between the CDU and SPD. Even though the results for the CDU and SPD were better than expected, they can still be read as another hard blow to the grand coalition (GroKo). Taking the huge loss for the GroKo in Bavaria two weeks earlier into account, both Chancellor Merkel and SPD-chair Andrea Nahles are currently in hot water. When the results of the Hesse elections became known, some influential members of the SPD parliamentary group openly called for a breakup of the GroKo if no substantial changes were made. The bare fact that some Social Democrats are calling to leave the GroKo whilst the party is only polling 15 per cent demonstrates how desperate the SPD has grown in recent weeks.
Is Merkel leaving the ship?
On the other hand, bad results like the one in Hesse are now strengthening Merkel's adversaries in her own party. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the Chancellor will refrain from competing for the party chair at the CDU party conference in December as she takes the first step to end her tenure as the most powerful woman in German politics. Merkel has also announced that she will not run as the leading candidate in the next federal election. It is also suspected that the move could steer current discussions away from the weak condition of the coalition between CDU and SPD. Merkel needs to organise her succession while she has enough power left to install a preferred candidate.