Voters in the southern German heartland of Bavaria dealt a stinging blow Sunday to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative allies, humbling a party that has governed for decades while boosting either political flank in an election defined by polarized opinions about immigration. The dramatic loss of support for the Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), scrambled politics in a region that has been one of the most politically stable in Europe. Votes for the Bavarian state parliament have rarely been competitive in modern lifetimes, with the CSU crafting a “laptops to lederhosen” approach that coupled its support for high-tech industry with its embrace of traditional culture. For decades, the CSU came as close as Western Europe gets to a state party.
That changed Sunday, with voters in the affluent region defecting en masse and redistributing their support to both ends of the political spectrum. The result won’t end the CSU’s 61-year streak in power, but it forces the party to bargain for partners. And it will almost certainly add to the strain on an already beleaguered Merkel, whose other coalition partner, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), was also punished Sunday. The combined share of the vote won by the SPD and CSU was down more than 20 percent since the last election, in 2013.
“It’s an earthquake,” said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, who leads the German Marshall Fund’s office in Berlin. “People are dissatisfied with this so-called grand coalition. This is not the way they want things.”
The results showed the CSU falling from nearly half the vote five years ago to 37.2 percent. The Green Party surged to second place, with 17.5 percent, and the far-right Alternative for Germany is set to enter the Bavarian parliament for the first time, with 10.2 percent.