It was the German Social Democrats’ first electoral test under their new leader, Martin Schulz. They failed. Instead, voters in the state of Saarland flocked to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives on Sunday for fear of a new left-wing alliance. “A damper for Schulzomania,” the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily wrote in a Monday editorial as politicians in Berlin sought to evaluate the implications of the vote for the Sept. 24 national election in Germany, the European Union’s pivotal member state. Schulz has led a revival in his Social Democrats’ (SPD) poll ratings since winning the nomination as their leader in January. But the prospect of his center-left party ruling with the far-left Linke in Saarland turned off voters there.
Both the SPD and Linke lost support from the 2012 vote after suggesting they could team up or form a “red-red-green” alliance with the environmentalist Greens. In the event, the Greens did not meet the 5 percent threshold to enter the state assembly.
The outcome is a setback for the prospects of such a left-leaning alliance ousting Merkel after September’s vote, though drawing lessons for the federal vote from the Saarland result is problematic and “red-red-green” could yet prevail nationally.
With just 800,000 voters, Saarland is the size of just two of Berlin’s residential districts. Merkel’s conservatives also fielded a strong candidate in Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the state premier who has been nicknamed “the Merkel from the Saar”.