The elections in Bavaria and Hesse give a large victory to the conservatives and show dissatisfaction with Scholz's coalition | International
Regional elections in Bavaria, Germany's second most populous state, and in Hesse, home to the financial metropolis of Frankfurt, have left few surprises as to the winner. In both statewhich in total number more than 13 million voters, the conservative candidates have won with a huge advantage. In Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU), led by the current president, Markus Söder, obtained 36.6% of the votes, according to the count of the public broadcaster ZDF at 8:40 p.m. In Hesse, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) celebrates the victory with 33.8% of the votes.
But the fact that there are no surprises or reversals does not mean that relevant conclusions cannot be drawn from these elections, the last of the year in Germany and which coincide with the halfway point of the legislature of Olaf Scholz's coalition. The tripartite of social democrats, greens and liberals will turn two years old next December, and these elections read like a kind of political midterm exam. The evaluation leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the chancellor and his associates: the three parties lose support, which shows, this time at the polls and not only in the polls, the deep discontent of Germans with his government.
In addition to the conservatives, there is another clear winner in the double election night: the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which, pending the final results, has managed to occupy second place in both elections. It was one of the unknowns of the day: what success this formation was going to achieve, against which the rest of the parties maintain a sanitary cordon to isolate it from political decisions. The good results of the AfD, which in both cases are record-breaking, according to its co-leader, Alice Weidel, are especially relevant because they occur in western federal states, where in theory its penetration is much lower than in the former eastern Germany.
Both the Bavarian president, Markus Söder, and his colleague Boris Rhein in Hesse are in a position to repeat their coalitions with the Free Voters and the Greens, respectively. The Free Voters, a right-wing party with populist overtones and with some similarities to the AfD, which is very strong in Bavaria, obtained 14.8% of the votes. This formation has not been affected by the scandal that broke out at the end of August, in the middle of the electoral pre-campaign, when it became known that its leader, Hubert Aiwanger, distributed and perhaps wrote an anti-Semitic pamphlet when he was a teenager. Although the 52-year-old politician's apologies and explanations have left many unknowns about his participation in the events, many voters consider that he has been the victim of a campaign against him and have excused him.
Söder emerges victorious, but not exactly reinforced in his supposed intention to run for the conservative candidacy in the 2025 federal elections. If in 2018 the 37.2% he obtained was already considered disappointing - the CSU has governed with an absolute majority for decades in Bavaria-, 36.6% of these elections marks a new record of decline for the sister party of the CDU.
In Hesse, support for the Greens has remained at 14.9%, a very disappointing result for a party that in the previous elections, in 2018, was close to 20% (19.8%). Mathematically, the CDU could revalidate its alliance with the environmentalists or choose the social democrats as new partners in the Government, but everything seems to indicate that the memory of the good collaboration with the greens, which has lasted for a decade, will prevail.
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The result in Hesse is also disheartening for the Social Democrats, who had nominated Interior Minister Nancy Faeser as their candidate, in an attempt to bring a face widely known to all Germans into the race. But well-known is not the same as popular, as preliminary results have shown. The SPD has not suffered a setback as painful as the Greens, but with 15.2% of the votes, tied with the AfD, it is more than four percentage points ahead of 2018 (19.8%). Faeser, who had announced that she would only stay in Hesse if she was elected president, will return to Berlin to her ministerial duties, but she will do so very weakened. “The result is very disappointing,” she acknowledged shortly after the polling stations closed. In Bavaria the Social Democrats fall to fifth place, with 7.9% of the votes.
Among Scholz's partners, the collapse of the liberal party (FDP) led by the Finance Minister, the hawk Christian Lindner, stands out. With 2.9% of the votes, the party was left out of the Bavarian regional parliament (the minimum is 5%) and with the count at 8:40 p.m. its presence in Hesse was also in question, obtaining there a 4.9%. Five years ago the liberals, known for favoring the business sector and for defending tax cuts and a return to the debt brakethey got 7.5% of the votes in the land which houses the economic capital of Germany.
The results in Bavaria, the traditional stronghold of the CSU, which has governed there almost uninterruptedly since the Second World War, send another message that has echoes in Berlin and the rest of the country. Political fragmentation is increasing and the push of right-wing populist formations is growing throughout the territory, not only in the states of the former East Germany. If the results of the AfD (16.2%) and the Free Voters (14.8%) are added, it turns out that they practically reach 30%, the minimum voting intention figure that this formation is obtaining in the three state Easterners holding elections next year. The Free Voters aim to enter the Bundestag, the German Parliament, in the 2025 federal elections.
Migration, key during the campaign
The migratory pressure that Germany is suffering - with an increase of almost 80% in asylum seekers this year compared to the previous one, added to the reception of more than a million Ukrainians who fled the Russian war of aggression - has been the main protagonist of the electoral campaign in both Bavaria and Hesse. More than the economic situation, education, health or the energy transition, how to avoid irregular border entries has focused the debate in both regions. In Bavaria, Söder proposed establishing a maximum limit of 200,000 asylum seekers per year for all of Germany, and the populist right-wing parties (the far-right AfD and the Free Voters) brought the slogans against irregular immigration to all rallies. In Hesse, where in principle there were other relevant issues as well, such as the stagnation of the German economy, the focus was also on migration because the Social Democratic candidate is the Minister of the Interior, therefore in charge of managing the borders.
The Bavarian president assured after learning of the CSU victory that the voters have given him the mandate to "change this immigration policy in Germany." Söder called for a broad social consensus, a “commitment, similar to that of the 1990s,” he said, “to resolve this issue because otherwise nationalist and far-right forces will continue to succeed.” He was referring to the excellent results that Alternative has achieved for Germany, which has ensured that the rest of the parties spend the campaign debating the issues of the ultra formation. FDP general secretary Bijan Djir-Sarai blamed “coalition disunity” in Berlin for his party's poor showing in regional elections. In his opinion, voters have penalized the tripartite formations because the major issues of the campaign have been federal and not regional. And on those issues, like migration or economic development, he said, “the coalition must develop a common understanding.” In recent months, the three parties have publicly shown their disagreement on multiple issues, from the controversial heating law to the federal budget for 2024, including social benefits such as aid for children.
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