Merkel’s Bavarian allies suffer historic election losses

Far-right Alternative for Germany wins 11 percent of state vote and enters 15th of Germany’s 16 state assemblies

Supporters of the governing Christian Social Union, CSU, react after the first exit polls for the Bavarian state election in Munich, southern Germany, October 14, 2018. (Michel Kappeler/ dpa via AP)
Supporters of the governing Christian Social Union, CSU, react after the first exit polls for the Bavarian state election in Munich, southern Germany, October 14, 2018. (Michel Kappeler/ dpa via AP)

BERLIN, Germany (AFP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CSU allies suffered historic losses in Bavaria state elections Sunday, dealing a blow to her fragile three-party coalition government.

The Christian Social Union (CSU) scored 37 percent, a steep 10-point drop from four years ago in the wealthy Alpine state it has ruled almost singlehandedly since the 1960s.

As a result, it loses its absolute majority and must scramble for coalition allies — likely the conservative Free Voters, who won 11%.

Merkel’s other national governing partner, the over 150-year-old Social Democrats (SPD), halved their ballot box support to 9.6%, ceding the position of Bavaria’s second biggest political force to the Greens.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a press conference after a meeting with social partners, in Meseberg, eastern Germany, on September 3, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Tobias SCHWARZ)

“Debacle for CSU and SPD,” ran the online headline of Bild daily, while Der Spiegel called it a “bitter defeat” for Bavaria’s traditional ruling party.

State premier Markus Soeder, 51, conceded the result was “painful,” while CSU party chief and national Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said “it was not a nice day for us.”

The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), which rails against Muslims and demands that “Merkel must go,” won 11% and entered the 15th of Germany’s 16 state assemblies.

The head of Italy’s far-right League, deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, hailed the rise of the AfD at the expense of the older and bigger parties, saying that “in Bavaria, change has won” and adding an “arrivederci” (goodbye) to Merkel.

‘Bitter losses’

For Merkel, in power for 13 years, the Bavaria election spells a new headache just over half a year since she managed to forge a fragile “grand coalition” with the CSU and a reluctant SPD. The “bitter” losses in Bavaria reflect voter dismay over recent coalition infighting in Berlin, conceded the CDU’s general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

She said this “must serve as a warning for the German CDU” ahead of another dangerous state election, in Hesse state, two weeks from now.

Alice Weidel of the German AfD (Alternative for Germany) party, sits in front of a news screen as she awaits a press conference in Berlin, Germany, August 21, 2017. (AP/Michael Sohn)

SPD leader Andrea Nahles conceded a “bad result for the SPD … and for all mainstream parties” that she attributed partially to “the bad performance of the grand coalition in Berlin.”

The AfD’s Alice Weidel, meanwhile, jubilantly declared that Merkel’s government “is not a grand coalition but a mini-coalition” and demanded she “clear the way for new elections.”

The Bavaria poll result shattered old certainties for the CSU, which had long dominated politics in the state known for its fairytale castles, Oktoberfest and crucifixes on classroom walls.

Migration fight

Since Germany’s mass migrant influx of 2015, the CSU has hardened its folksy brand of beerhall politics with increasingly aggressive anti-immigration and law-and-order positions.

At the national level, Seehofer became Merkel’s harshest internal critic, echoing the AfD’s rhetoric about the more than one million refugee and migrant arrivals.

The poll result Sunday showed that Seehofer’s brinkmanship in Berlin backfired as voters worried about immigration defected to the AfD, while those turned off by the harsh new tone drifted to the Greens.

“If you copy the far right, you lose,” gloated the Greens’ national co-leader Annalena Baerbock.

Party leaders Robert Habeck, center, and Anton Hofreiter, right, celebrate on the election party of the Green party in the state parliament in Munich, Germany, October 14, 2018, after the polling stations for the Bavarian state elections have closed. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

A poll by public broadcaster ARD showed that most voters blame Berlin-based politicians for the CSU’s poor performance. While 56% saw Seehofer as the chief culprit, 24% pointed to Merkel, followed by Soeder, at 8%.

Seehofer, 69, has already declared he intends to stay on and “complete my mission” as interior minister.

The Bavaria election served as a painful bellwether of the national mood.

Across Germany, support for the CDU-CSU conservative union dropped to an all-time low of 26%, according to an Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

In second place, Germany-wide, were the SPD and Greens, neck-and-neck at 17% each, followed by the AfD at 15%.

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