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Germany: Hendrik Wüst’s CDU Wins State Elections in North Rhine-Westphalia

In Germany’s largest federal state, North Rhine-Westphalia, the conservative CDU just won the elections. But its main candidate Hendrik Wüst has a problem: He might not remain in office because his coalition partner FDP shrank.

Burgas, Bulgaria, May 15th, 2022. Update: May 16th, 2022, 5:55 a.m. CEDT (The Berlin Spectator) — In North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the 13 million residents who were eligible to vote had the choice between the Christian Democrat Hendrik Wüst and the Social Democrat Thomas Kutschaty. Both of them are lawyers, fathers and Catholics. Politically, it is hard to tell them apart. Voters also had the options of voting for the left-wing Greens, the center-right FDP, the extremist right-wing AfD, the far-left ‘Die Linke’ or smaller parties.

The Results

The result looks as follows:

CDU: 35.7
SPD: 26.7
Greens: 18.2
FDP: 5.9
AfD: 5.4
Die Linke: 2.1

The CDU won sky-high, while the SPD got the worst result it has had in North Rhine-Westphalia. Apart from the conservatives, there is another winner: The Greens tripled the percentage they had gotten five years ago.

The Situation

Wüst’s problem is the fact that there is no guarantee the party with the biggest share of votes, his CDU, will govern NRW. It all depends on finding and convincing the right coalition partner(s) as well. Here, the Greens will likely play an important role. Many German-language publications used the word ‘kingmaker’ in connection with them. Without the Greens, nobody will govern NRW, unless the CDU and the SPD go for a grand coalition, which is extremely unlikely.

Sunday’s election result does not let Wüst continue his coalition with the FDP since his junior coalition partner just shrank like jeans that are being washed in boiling water. He can change horses and go with the Greens, if they agree. Or the SPD could try to form a coalition with the Greens and the FDP. The Social Democrats are too weak for a red-green coalition without the FDP.

For a long time, from 1967 to 2005, NRW was a Social Democratic stronghold. Since 2005, the SPD and the CDU have taken turns governing the state. Neither First Minister Hendrik Wüst nor Thomas Kutschaty have been candidates for First Minister before. Wüst took over for Armin Laschet, who became candidate for Chancellor, and Kutschaty was NRW’s Justice Minister many years ago. The latest polls had given Wüst’s CDU a slight lead over Kutschaty’s SPD.

The Significance

The election campaign was about national and global subjects more than regional ones. The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the energy prices, the climate crisis and the Corona pandemic were on people’s minds more than the police both Wüst and Kutschaty want to strengthen. During the campaign, the candidates also talked about NRW’s education policy, issues with the state’s public transport and the stalling digitization.

Because NRW is Germany’s largest state, its elections do affect the entire country as well. In 2005, a terrible result for the SPD led to new elections for the Berlin Bundestag and the end of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s ‘Red-Green coalition’ (SPD with the Greens), after which Angela Merkel formed her first grand coalition and became Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The Reactions

The CDU’s former Health Minister Jens Spahn stated this was a huge success for Wüst and a great day for the party. It’s Secretary General Mario Czaja said in Berlin, First Minister Wüst had clearly received a government mandate. Serap Güler, an MP for the CDU announced her party colleagues in NRW would talk to the Greens first.

At 6:32 p.m., Hendrik Wüst stood in front of countless TV cameras. He said the voters had made his CDU very strong. This was a mandate to head the next state government. Wüst thanked all campaign helpers and the FDP, his junior coalition partner.

Mona Neubauer of the Greens in NRW, one of the winners of the evening, said her party had been rewarded for a good election campaign. She thanked voters for the trust they had given the Greens. The good result was a big responsibility. Climate protection would need to have a higher priority now.

The SPD’s Thomas Kutschaty congratulated both the CDU and the Greens. He said the SPD’s expectations had not been met. At the same time, the voters had unelected Wüst’s coalition with the FDP. The party with the second-best result could indeed start coalition talks, the SPD’s Secretary General Kevin Wüst stated. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, a Social Democrat from NRW, conceded his party had lost the elections, but he did not rule out an SPD-led coalition in Düsseldorf, NRW’s capital.

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