Germany’s ruling parties are reeling from their second electoral upset in a fortnight, after voters in a key state abandoned them in droves. The result in the central state of Hesse could plunge both parties of Angela Merkel’s coalition government into renewed crises. Preliminary final results from a regional election seen as decisive for the future of Germany’s increasingly wobbly coalition showed Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) slumping to 27%, the party’s worst showing in the state since 1966 and a drop of 11 percentage points since Hesse last went to the polls in 2013. Yet the CDU was at pains to present the result as a success. The state’s CDU-Green coalition has scraped a majority, putting an end to speculation over the future of the CDU state premier and close Merkel ally, Volker Bouffier. With tensions running high in the CDU, some members have implied that if Bouffier falls, Merkel may struggle if she stands for re-election as party leader at its conference in December.
But Merkel has other reasons to worry about the result. Her coalition partner in Berlin, the Social Democrats (SPD), tanked to 19.8% in a dead heat with the resurgent Green party for second place.
The result, the SPD’s worst since 1946, will pile pressure on the party leader, Andrea Nahles, and in the most extreme potential outcome could be the shock that triggers the SPD’s withdrawal from Merkel’s coalition in Berlin, a move that would almost certainly force fresh elections.
“National politics contributed considerably to the SPD’s losses in Hesse,” Nahles said shortly after the exit poll on Sunday evening. “The state of the government is not acceptable.”