Germany: Major Parties Suffer Big Losses in Hesse Province

Update October 29th, 2018, 06:07 a.m.: The final results  are in. CDU: 27%, SPD: 19.8%, Greens: 19.8%, AfD: 13.1%, FDP: 7.5%, The Left: 6.3%. The voter turnout was 67.3%.

In Hesse, the German province which includes cities like Frankfurt, Darmstadt and Wiesbaden, the two major parties, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), are confronted with huge losses in federal state elections, according to first projections.

The CDU only got 27 percent, far less than the 38.3 percent the party had reached in the last elections in 2013, while the SPD got 20 percent, losing substantially as well. Recently, especially the SPD has been forced to deal with catastrophic losses, both in Berlin and in the provinces.

With the big hits these two parties took, Merkel’s shaky government coalition on the federal level in Berlin might collapse, some observers believe. This would mean early elections. After this election in Hesse, and the one in Bavaria two weeks ago, one thing is certain: The political landscape in Germany is changing.

In Hesse, where some 4.4 million residents were eligible to vote today, the Greens proved to be the big winners of the night, just like in Bavaria. They almost doubled the 11.1 percent they had in 2013. Now they seem to be at 20 percent, in case the early projections are accurate.

So far, Hesse’s governor Volker Bouffier, one of Merkel’s conservatives, is heading an unconventional coalition with the Greens. It is unclear what the next government in Hesse’s capital Wiesbaden will look like.

The SPD’s Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel is hoping to become governor.

The ‘Alternative für Deutschland’ (AfD), an extremist far-right party, got 13 percent in Hesse. It will now enter the province’s state parliament. Actually, the AfD is now part of all 16 state parliaments in Germany.

The liberal FDP reached 7 and the so-called Left (‘Die Linke’) 6.5 percent.

At a polling spot in the town of Giessen, governor Bouffier said earlier today, he was optimistic. His party CDU wanted to be the main political power and form the new government. Bouffier told the press his preference was another two-way coalition.t

The SPD’s main candidate Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel voted in his home town of Lich. In the past few days there had been “a lot of movement”, he said. He was optimistic since there was not much else he could do on election day. Schäfer-Gümbel wants to be the next governor.

In the meantime, Berlin politicians tried to downplay the possible implications of the Hesse state election for Angela Merkel’s government. Olaf Scholz, who is Germany’s Minister of Finance and Vice Chancellor, stated he was not Merkel’s spokesman. “But I do want to tell you that Mrs. Merkel has said she wanted to be chancellor for the entire legislative period”, he told reporters.

Many voters were concerned about possible driving bans for cars with Diesel engines, the migration and education policies as well as rent increases. But on Sunday, voters did not only choose political candidates. They also took part in a referendum about a reform of the state constitution.

Helge Braun, Merkel’s Minister of the Chancellery, reacted to the projected outcome of the elections in Hesse by conceding a big loss which the CDU had suffered. But the result was still better than projected by some, Braun told the ZDF TV network. The CDU’s secretary general Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said her party had reached its main goal, which had been to prevent a “red-red-green coalition”. She meant a coalition involving the SPD, the Left and the Greens.

Bouffier told his fellow party members in Wiesbaden, the CDU had known the campaign would be difficult, because of the recent rows in the Berlin government coalition. But the campaign in Hesse had still been successful. Schäfer-Gümbel said the SPD’s result was a major defeat which could not be sugarcoated. This was his third attempt to become governor.

Tarel Al-Wazir, the Green’s main candidate, said Hesse had “never been greener than today.” The election result was an assignment for the party. It had to continue doing what it had done so far.