WORLD NEWS

Pitfalls for Merkel as Germany faces 3 elections

Mar 23, 2012, 10:00 AM

Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) – Germany is embarking this weekend on an unexpectedly hectic state election season that could deepen the troubles of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition ahead of a national vote due next year.

This was supposed to be a quiet year in Germany’s electoral calendar _ a relief for Merkel after a vote-packed 2011 brought a series of disasters for her partners in the national government, the pro-market Free Democrats, and ended her own party’s five-decade rule in one traditional stronghold.

But thanks to regional political maneuvering, Merkel now faces three state elections, rather than the one originally planned. They culminate with a May 13 vote in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia.

Opposition Green party leader Claudia Roth says the elections will send “an important signal for the 2013 election at federal level.” The center-left opposition hopes that signal will be that it is well-placed to oust Merkel late next year.

On Sunday, the small, economically depressed western state of Saarland kicks off the voting. There, Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats risk losing its 13-year hold on the governor’s office to the center-left Social Democrats, the biggest national opposition party.

That would be a symbolic blow to the chancellor, because it would be the fourth state governor she has lost since 2010, said Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University.

The situation is worse for the junior coalition partner. Polls in all three states with elections currently show the Free Democrats below the 5 percent of the vote needed to win seats in regional legislatures _ reflecting their dire situation in national polls.

The party has been battered by its failure to win the tax cuts it promised before Germany’s 2009 elections, and by perceptions that it is drifting and deserves much of the blame for frequent squabbling in Merkel’s coalition.

Voters ejected the Free Democrats, often called “the liberals” for their economic positions, from five state parliaments last year. Vice Chancellor Philipp Roesler, who has little to boast of since he was elected party leader last May, can ill afford another three wipeouts.

Failing to win seats May 6 in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein and _ worse _ a week later in North Rhine-Westphalia, a politically weighty region of 18 million people, would raise serious questions about Roesler’s future and the prospect of more infighting and upheaval that could distract the government.

“This is an absolutely decisive election for us,” Christian Lindner, the Free Democrats’ lead candidate in North Rhine-Westphalia, told Deutschlandfunk radio. “It’s about … whether there is a voice of freedom in Germany’s parliaments, a consistently liberal party.”

Despite the Free Democrats’ troubles, Merkel’s Christian Democrats remain popular nationally and the chancellor’s personal approval ratings have been bolstered by her hard-nosed handling of the eurozone debt crisis. And for now, there is little obvious incentive for either partner to consider early national elections.

National polls show a majority neither for the current coalition nor for the center-left Social Democrats and Greens, who ran Germany from 1998 to 2005.

The elections in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia will help show whether the center-left pair have a hope of winning next year, political scientist Neugebauer said.

In Schleswig-Holstein, they hope to oust a center-right state government; and in North Rhine-Westphalia, a traditional stronghold, they appear well placed to win a majority.

The center-left parties ran that state in a minority government for two years, but it fell this month _ three years early _ when it failed to get approved a budget that opponents described as irresponsibly spendthrift at a time when Europe is tightening its belt.

Merkel says voters have a chance to decide on “a stable government that thinks more of the future and doesn’t obstruct opportunities by running up more and more debt.”

The Saarland election also is being held more than two years ahead of schedule after its government collapsed in January.

The center-left’s chances may be influenced by how well the upstart Pirate Party performs. The party, which is seeking to expand its appeal beyond calls for Internet freedom, entered its first state legislature last year and hopes to establish itself firmly as a political force this year.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

World News

A jet takes flight from Sky Harbor International Airport as the sun sets over downtown Phoenix, Ari...

Associated Press

Climate change has made heat waves last longer since 1979, according to study

A new study says climate change is making giant heat waves crawl slower across the globe with higher temperatures over larger areas.

18 days ago

FILE - Kate, Princess of Wales and Prince William travel in a coach following the coronation ceremo...

Associated Press

Kate and William ‘extremely moved’ by support since the Princess of Wales’ cancer revelation

Kate, the Princess of Wales, and her husband, Prince William, are said to be “extremely moved” by the public’s warmth and support following her shocking cancer announcement

23 days ago

Kate, Princess of Wales, is seen visiting to Sebby's Corner in north London, on Friday, Nov. 24, 20...

Associated Press

Kate, Princess of Wales, says she is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer

Kate, the Princess of Wales, said Friday in a video announcement she has cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy.

25 days ago

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen visiting the SKA Arena sports and concert complex in St. P...

Associated Press

Putin extends rule in preordained Russian election after harshest crackdown since Soviet era

President Vladimir Putin sealed his control over Russia for six more years on Monday with a highly orchestrated landslide election win.

29 days ago

President Joe Biden walks towards members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn...

Associated Press

U.S. military airdrops thousands of meals over Gaza, many more airdrops expected

U.S. military C-130 cargo planes dropped food in pallets over Gaza on Saturday in the opening stage of an emergency humanitarian assistance.

1 month ago

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who reportedly died in prison on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, i...

Associated Press

Alexei Navalny, galvanizing opposition leader and Putin’s fiercest foe, died in prison, Russia says

Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, died Friday while incarcerated, the country's prison agency said.

2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

Pitfalls for Merkel as Germany faces 3 elections