Marco Hadem & Christoph Trost -
October 14 could be the moment of truth for Germany’s southern state of Bavaria: Will the Christian Social Union (CSU) continue to dominate the state parliament or will it be completely reconfigured as has already happened in many other state parliaments?
After September’s national elections in which the traditional parties — including the CSU — lost a lot of ground, the situation in Bavaria is now as uncertain as never before. Not even the election date has been fixed yet. On January 16, the Bavarian cabinet in the capital Munich will set the date, and it will most likely be October 14.
The date is only a side issue. The biggest question is whether the CSU — which teams up on the national stage with the Christian Democrats (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel — will be able to defend its absolute majority, or whether it will need a coalition partner.
The more troubling question is whether the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) will gain entry to the Bavarian parliament for the first time. Such an event would topple the long-standing dogma once formulated decades ago by the state’s legendary premier, Franz Josef Strauss, who defended the CSU’s own rightist stance this way: “There can be no democratically legitimised party to the right of the CSU.”
The CSU, long accustomed to winning comfortable majorities, is still reeling from the debacle of last September’s elections, when it won only 38.8 per cent of the vote, losing the absolute majority of the state’s deputies sent to the national parliament in Berlin.
For the CSU, holding an absolute majority in Bavaria’s state parliament remains the minimum goal. In 2013, under state Premier Horst Seehofer, the CSU won 47.7 per cent of the vote, just enough to reclaim the absolute majority in parliament.
Now the party is entering the fray with a twin leadership. Amid an internal challenge to Seehofer and in-fighting after the poor showing in September, the CSU party congress meeting in Nuremberg in mid-December nominated Markus Soeder to be its standard-bearer for the state elections, while Seehofer remains the party leader.
A renewed loss of its absolute majority standing would not only mean the CSU having to govern with a coalition partner again, but would also affect its position on the national stage. With its till now 100-per cent performance in winning directly-elected seats to the national parliament in Berlin, the CSU had been able to keep up the pressure on a CDU that was itself stumbling at the polls.
CSU leader Seehofer accordingly is sticking with winning an absolute majority as the party’s fixed goal, but with a caveat that such an aim is a fundamental one.
“Naturally, an absolute majority always remains the general goal for the CSU,” he said recently. This meant first having a stable rating of over 40 per cent.
But there’s a problem from the CSU’s viewpoint. A recent survey of Bavarian voters showed that only 20 per cent wished for the party to continue to rule alone, while 26 per cent did not regard this is a realistic prospect. CSU honorary party leader Theo Waigel recently admitted in the party paper Bayernkurier: “It was also recognised previously that absolute majorities are not especially loved by voters.”
Soeder, the man chosen as the CSU’s candidate for the premiership is also not speaking emphatically about an absolute majority. At the party congress in Nuremberg, he spoke symbolically of Bavaria being a tree planted by the CSU.
“We want to nurture it further — and at best, all by ourselves,”Soeder said about the CSU’s aims. Soeder, 51, will get his chance soon to prove himself. By late March or early April at the latest, he is to replace the 68-year-old Seehofer as premier of Bavaria and then be primarily responsible for how the party fares in the elections in October.