Foreign Affairs

German election raises doubts for Merkel

German election raises doubts for Merkel

For Angela Merkel, the worst possible results emerged from state elections in Lower Saxony Sunday—suddenly raising serious questions about the political survival this fall of Germany’s “Iron Chancellor” and America’s most reliable ally in Europe.

With much of the world watching the race in Germany’s fourth most populous state, Merkel’s CDU (conservative) party and its Free Democratic (libertarian) Party ally were edged out of power by one seat in the state parliament by the leftist opposition. In what the BBC called a “ knife-edge finish,” Social Democrats and Greens won a combined 46.3 percent of the vote to percent to 45.9 percent for “Team Merkel.”

Were these figures translated into national election returns this September, Merkel would either lose her bid for a third term as chancellor or be forced to cobble together a new coalition with the Greens or a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats such as that through which she ruled before her landslide re-election in 2009. In either scenario, the “Iron Chancellor” would not have the political clout she now has and would undoubtedly be forced to govern with concessions to the left.

Simply put, with Lower Saxony the fourth state election to turn out Merkel’s allies in favor of the left since she began her current term in 2009, the chancellor once thought unbeatable is now facing the fight of her life this September. Social Democratic leader Peer Steinbrück, a former finance minister who has so far run what many consider an inept campaign, is suddenly being looked upon as a heavyweight contender.

In addition, the Greens are increasingly flexing political muscle. Known primarily as a militantly environmentalist party in the 1980s and early ’90s, the modern Greens have toned down their rhetoric and are primarily identified as a party of reformers whose most radical proposal is higher taxes. In the state of Baden Würtemberg, headquarters of both Porsche and Mercedes Benz, the premier is Green Winfried Kretschman, a practicing Roman Catholic and philosophical centrist. In Lower Saxony, the Greens won a handsome 13.5 percent of the vote, which, combined with the Social Democrats’ 32.4 percent, proved just enough for the left to win.

The left’s victory may have longer term results on German politics. Like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the U.S., Lower Saxony State Premier David McAllister had been considered one of the brightest stars on the right. At 42, accompanied by bagpipers (he has a German mother and Scottish father) and his supporters brandishing placards with the slogan “I’m a Mac”, the magnetic McAllister was considered the heir apparent to Merkel as chancellor. Merkel herself invested considerable political capital by campaigning with McAllister and appearing with him at an election eve rally outside Hanover.

Now he is out of power and Hanover Mayor Stephan Weil will form the new state government. More than a few now talk of Weil as a future Social Democratic leader and chancellor.

So it was not a good night for Angela Merkel, her conservative allies, or the chancellor’s admirers in official Washington. At most, they can console themselves in knowing that September and national elections are eight months away.

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