Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies lost their absolute majority in a regional election, signaling a voter backlash against long-ruling parties that’s also likely to have fallout in the German chancellor’s government.
The ruling Christian Social Union, which has dominated Bavarian politics in the decades since World War II, took 35.5 percent of the vote on Sunday, its lowest result since 1950, according to projections by broadcaster ARD based on exit polls. Voters migrated to the Green party which more than doubled its support to as much as 19 percent and the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, which won its first seats in the state parliament with 11 percent.
The result is a warning shot to Merkel as support fades across the country for the governing “grand coalition” comprising her Christian Democrats, the CSU and the Social Democrats. Support for the SPD in Bavaria halved, as the party took an estimated 10 percent.
The result may also have implications for CSU leader Horst Seehofer, Merkel’s interior minister in the federal cabinet. He’s been sharply critical of the chancellor’s stance on migration, provoking a coalition crisis over the summer when he threatened to impose restrictions on the border with Austria against Merkel’s will.
Merkel may be able to insulate herself to some extent from the Bavarian outcome, since CSU leaders’ criticism of her open-border policy failed to translate into support in Bavaria. But Merkel’s CDU will contest its own election in two weeks’ time in Hesse, where polls show its support declining by as many as 10 percentage points, putting its state coalition with the Greens at risk.
The CSU has long been identified with the prosperity in Bavaria, where regional unemployment in the land of beer, lederhosen and BMW cars is Germany’s lowest at 2.8 percent.
Sunday’s result in Bavaria, where the CSU has governed alone for most of the past six decades, means that the party will have to find a coalition partner to stay in power. In addition to the Greens and the Free Democrats, which were projected to return to the parliament with 5 percent, the CSU could seek an alliance with the Free Voters, a long-standing opposition group that was projected at 11.5 percent.
The party’s campaign under state premier Markus Soeder fell flat as old numbers from the CSU playbook, such as a pledge to place Christian crosses in state offices, failed to gain traction. Soeder drew ridicule on social media with a “mission” to turn Bavaria into Europe’s top space technology hub, while a predecessor blamed part of the party’s slump on less conservative Germans moving to Bavaria from other parts of the country.
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