From outside Germany, Angela Merkel has long looked invincible. She has come to symbolise Germany’s political scene as Margaret Thatcher once did Britain’s. But on Monday morning she saw her centre-right coalition narrowly ousted by the opposition centre-left in a regional election that shifts the balance of power in Germany and could have profound implications for her chances of re-election in September. She told a press conference in Berlin that the result in Lower Saxony was “emotionally difficult” to deal with after the “rollercoaster” expectation that the Christian Democrat and liberal Free Democrat (FDP) coalition led by the half-Scottish David McAllister would narrowly succeed. It is a blow to her hopes for a boost as she fights for a third term in office, and as the 12th consecutive defeat for her party at state level it will give the centre-left a majority in the upper house, allowing the opposition to block major legislation or initiate laws that could make Merkel’s life extremely difficult.
Gerd Langguth, Merkel’s biographer and a political scientist at Bonn University, called the election “a veritable wake-up call” for Merkel. “While she still has a definite majority at the federal level, and she can still be re-elected, this has taken the wind out of her sails somewhat,” he said.
The election proved to be one of the most nail-biting German polls in recent years, with results initially indicating McAllister’s coalition had succeeded by one seat, then suggesting a dead-heat, and finally showing that the Social Democrats and Greens had secured 68 seats in the Hanover parliament, one more than the incumbents. The biggest shock of the evening was the FDP’s ability to come from a very weak position in which it was in danger of nearly failing to get even the minimum 5% needed to get into parliament, to secure almost 10%.
That, it turns out, was the result of tactical voting by CDU supporters anxious to see a continuation of the centre-right alliance, but came at the expense of Merkel’s party, whose support fell by six points to 36%.