Merkel’s Bavarian allies suffer historic election losses

MUNICH: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s arch-conservative CSU allies suffered historic losses in Bavaria state elections on Sunday, dealing a blow to her fragile three-party coalition government.
The Christian Social Union (CSU) scored 35.5 per cent, according to first public TV projections, a humiliating 12-point drop from four years ago in the wealthy Alpine state they have ruled almost single-handedly since the 1960s.
The outcome means the party loses its absolute majority and must scramble for coalition allies — either small conservative groups or possibly its long-time ideological foes the Greens, who won a record 19 per cent according to broadcaster ZDF.
The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), which rails against Muslims and demands that “Merkel must go”, won 11 per cent and entered the 15th of Germany’s 16 state assemblies.
Merkel’s other national governing partner, the over 150-year-old Social Democrats (SPD), took only around 10 per cent, ceding the position of main left-of-centre party and Bavaria’s second biggest political force to the Greens.
“Debacle for CSU and SPD,” ran the first online headline of Bild daily, while Spiegel Online called it a “bitter defeat” for Bavaria’s traditional ruling party.
The outcome reflects shifting voter preferences at the expense of the “big tent” mainstream parties in Bavaria, a state which mixes rural Catholic conservative areas with cosmopolitan urban centres home to global companies like Siemens and BMW.
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 the reluctant SPD, and with two weeks to go until the next dangerous state election, in Hesse state.
The ballot is a painful bellwether of the national mood following several government crises and at a time when most commentators speak of the dawn of the Merkel era.
Across Germany, support for the CDU-CSU conservative union dropped to an all-time low of 26 per cent, according to an Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
In second place, Germany-wide were the SPD and Greens, now neck-and-neck at 17 per cent each, followed by the AfD at 15 per cent.
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.
Since Germany’s mass migrant influx of 2015, the party has hardened its folksy brand of politics with an increasingly aggressive anti-immigration and law and order rhetoric. — AFP