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Germany: Markus Söder’s Big Problem in Bavaria

Set up a huge beer tent, make sure there is an amount of beer which could intoxicate a small nation, and install a microphone with loudspeakers. Then invite a big audience and wait until everyone had two to three liters of beer. Now is the moment to stand in front of the crowd and talk. The more you verbally attack anyone and anything outside Bavaria, the more cheers you will get. The way it works in Bavaria is relatively simple. Well, it was, up to now.

Markus Söder, Minister-President in Bavaria, is up for his first election in this position after a long power struggle with his predecessor Horst Seehofer, who is still Chairman of the ultra-conservative CSU, and Minister of the Interior in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Berlin government. The CSU is the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s more moderate CDU.

Söder would love to do all of the above: Make them drunk, stand in front of them and badmouth Mrs. Merkel along with “her refugees”. Also he would have liked to give Seehofer some sideswipes. His adversary’s ‘Migration Masterplan’, which was introduced in July, would have been just the right point of attack. Yes, would have. Could have been.

The problem is that governor Söder’s favorite subjects are taboos he can not mention, just weeks before the Bavarian state legislature election. The CSU had tried to look even more determined to stop the migration flow into Bavaria than the AfD or “Alternative für Deutschland”, a radical far-right party which is already part of the Berlin Bundestag. But the strategy backfired. According to recent polls, the CSU can kiss its absolute majority goodbye.

Merkel-bashing, something CSU candidates for Minister-President always loved to do since the late Franz-Josef Strauß introduced that dicipline decades ago, does not work anymore either. That is because recently, the CSU almost destroyed Merkel’s Grand Coalition government during an artificially inflated argument about migration. The rulers in Munich thought that quarrel would lift them over the top, while they actually disgruntled many of their voters in Bavaria.

Markus Söder, who is a very gifted rhetorician, would have made those Bavarian beer tents boil, under normal circumstances. But now that he can not mention his favorite subjects, at least not in a way which would stick, he is forced to talk about the pensions instead, about job creation and other things he knows the voters, those who are sober, actually want to hear about.

In the last election in 2013, the CSU got 47.7 percent of the votes. Translated into seats in the Landtag, which is the Bavarian state parliament, this meant they had an outright majority and were therefore able to govern on their own, without any coalition partners. On October 14th, 2018, the day of the upcoming election, this situation will most likely change.

According to the latest polls, the CSU’s election results will slump to around 37 to 38 percent, which would add up to a catastrophic loss of 10 percent. The ultra-conservative’s most natural coalition partner, the liberal FDP, might not even make it into the state parliament. Another big question is whether they would even have a majority together.

It gets worse: The radical-right wing AfD will definitely enter the Landtag in Munich. The polls suggest they might have 15.2 percent, while the centrist social democrats (SPD) will likely become the fourth-strongest political force, with 12 to 13 percent, since the Greens might overtake them as well.

These days, governor Markus Söder likes to read polls, but not the ones he should be looking at. The ones he is supposedly studying are polls from other German provinces, which turned out to be completely false. Usually, the CSU makes fun of other federal states, in an arrogant way. But in this case, the CSU leadership wants to be like them, as long as their pre-election polls proved to be inaccurate.

Daydreaming must be very popular in certain Bavarian circles these days, because doomsday is just around the corner. The CSU board mostly messed things up itself. But on top of them shooting themselves in the foot, nationwide trends, including the drowning of the SPD and the return of the ugly German in the shape of the AfD, are screwing things up badly.

Whoever wants to take down the Chancellor by staging a big quarrel on migration, just because they intend to win an election in the province, which is what Minister Horst Seehofer attempted before chickening out, will think twice, from this moment forward. By doing so, he gave away tens of thousands of votes.

In the CSU, nobody is happy these days. In Merkel’s CDU, the wide-spread schadenfreude about the position their Bavarian colleagues put themselves in lifts up the mood to a certain extent only, because these days parties positioned close to the political center do not know who will be hit by the alarming trends next.

CSU is an abbreviation for Christian-Social Union (‘Christlich-Soziale Union’). The party exists in Bavaria only, basically as the regional version of the CDU. In the Bundestag, CDU and CSU have a common parliamentary group, the so called ‘Unionsfraktion’. During the recent argument with Chancellor Angela Merkel, the CSU had threatened to cancel it partnership with her party. It wasn’t the first time.

Munich, the Bavarian capital, is actually ruled by the Social Democrats (SPD).