Merkel’s party opens super election year by winning key state poll

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling conservatives opened Germany’s so-called “super election” year last night by winning a key poll in Hesse state. Her party was on course to form a coalition with the pro-market liberal Free Democrats who secured their biggest victory in the region in over 50 years.

The Hesse election was the first of fifteen separate electoral contests, including European, Presidential, local and regional state elections in Germany this year. They will be rounded off with a general election on September 27.

Mrs Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) headed by Hesse’s right wing Prime Minister, Roland Koch won over 37 percent of the vote in the state and pledged to form a coalition with the Free Democrats who won a record 16 percent of the vote – the party’s best showing since the 1954 .

Guido Westerwelle, the liberal party’s national leader described his party’s win as a “ glorious victory.” He added: “This is a great day for Hesse and the beginnings of a new start for Germany as a whole.”

The conservatives had portrayed themselves as the only party capable of fighting the recession during their campaign ran under the slogan: “In times likes these – vote conservative”

The Social Democrats suffered a humiliating defeat and won less than 24 percent of the vote. However the environmentalist Greens made significant gains and won 14 percent, their best ever result in the state.

The Hesse result was considered a possible blueprint for Germany’s general election.

Mrs Merkel’s conservatives have said they want to end their current grand coalition government with the Social Democrats after the September poll and form a national alliance with the liberal Free Democrats instead.

Yesterday’s election came less than a week after Mrs Merkel’s coalition unveiled a massive Euros 50 billion stimulus package in an attempt to protect the economy from the worst ravages of recession. Grim forecasts have suggested that German unemployment could shoot up by 750,000 and hit 3.7 million by the end of this year.

The stimulus package amounted to Mrs Merkel’s sharpest policy U-turn since she took office in 2005. Late last year she and Peer Steibrück, her Finance Minister had publicly rejected the notion of spending their way out of a recession.

The package includes a battery of tax cuts, health insurance reductions, proposals to prop up ailing companies and immediate cash awards for motorists who decide to scrap their cars and buy a new one. However many of the measures will only come into force in July.

The liberal victory in Hesse is certain to affect Mrs Merkel’s plans for the economy as her coalition will lose its majority in Germany’s upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, as a result. The liberals have already demanded that the tax cuts be back dated to January this year. Mrs Merkel will meet Mr Westerwelle, on Wednesday to discuss the changes.

Opinion polls published yesterday showed that 60 percent of voters thought that Mrs Merkel’s stimulus package would do little to halt a recession in which the German economy is forecast to contract by as much as 3 percent this year.

The Hesse poll took place almost exactly 12 months after an election in the state which gave the Social Democrats a wafer thin majority which was, albeit, not enough to secure the party the parliamentary majority it needed.

In attempt to form a government, the Social Democrats broke a pre-election pledge and tried to form a working alliance with the heirs to the former East German Communist party – the Left party. The upshot was political chaos and a subsequent stalemate which forced last night’s re-election.