Merkel’s party scores strong win in state poll test

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Kiel (Germany) (AFP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives secured a strong win Sunday in state polls in northern Germany, early results showed, lending a boost to her bid to retain power in September’s national elections.

Voters in the small, northern state of Schleswig-Holstein on the Baltic Sea handed her CDU party 34 percent, while the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) clinched 27 percent, according to public broadcaster ZDF.

Another public broadcaster ARD gave the CDU 33 percent and the SPD 26 percent.

The results marked a blow for the Social Democrats who had earlier this year seen a surge in support since new leader Martin Schulz was chosen in February.

But this enthusiasm appeared to be fading, and Schulz’s supporters are increasingly fearful that the momentum he had been surfing will not carry him into the chancellery, which Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have held since 2005.

The blow to the Social Democrats’ confidence came one week ahead of a far bigger regional vote in their stronghold of North Rhine-Westphalia, also Germany’s most populous state.

SPD deputy chief Ralf Stegner called Sunday’s result “disappointing” and a “bitter day for Social Democrats in Schleswig-Holstein”. 

Merkel’s CDU meanwhile was confidently looking to next Sunday’s polls.

“A good election result gives us motivation to go on fighting,” said lawmaker Michael Grosse-Broemer, who heads the CDU parliamentary group in the Bundestag.

Merkel’s party has seen a comeback, after losing a string of state elections over the past two years as voters punished the German leader for her liberal refugee policy that allowed more than one million asylum seekers into Germany since 2015.

But with the pace of new arrivals sharply slowing, surveys show the conservatives gaining ground.

The populist AfD (Alternative for Germany), which has railed against the migrant influx, scrapped through on Sunday with 5.5 percent support, winning its first seats in the state parliament in Kiel, despite a vicious falling-out between moderates and hardliners inside the party.

The result was however a far worse showing than at the end of last year, when it was the third most popular party nationwide.

  • ‘In good hands’ –

Beyond its significance as the last-but-one regional election before the September general elections, there were plenty of local peculiarities in Sunday’s vote.

Popular SPD state premier Torsten Albig, 53, has led a coalition of SPD, Greens, and local Danish minority party SSW since 2012.

His CDU challenger Daniel Guenther is 10 years younger and has been an energetic opposition leader at the regional parliament.

The centre-right group there has sparked debate across Germany in recent years with populist proposals like requiring pork to be served in school canteens — a nod to voters fearful of Islam’s influence on public life.

This year’s campaign has seen battles over education, policing and roads, a top concern in a state with a population of 2.8 million thinly spread across almost 16,000 square kilometres.

Another battleground is wind farm construction near residential areas — no small matter in a windy coastal region whose turbines are a key element in Germany’s “energy transition” away from nuclear and fossil fuels.

Both major parties have sent their heaviest hitters to Schleswig-Holstein in recent days, with Schulz making appearances in Kiel and Luebeck Thursday.

But his interventions have done little to counteract criticism that the former president of the European Parliament has so far failed to offer concrete attacks against Merkel and the right.

Schulz has an uphill battle ahead to defeat Merkel, a leader so popular that one CDU election poster in 2013 simply showed her fingers clasped in their habitual diamond shape alongside the slogan “Germany’s Future In Good Hands”.

    <figure><figcaption>Karin Prien (R) and members of the Conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) party react to election results in Schleswig-Holstein state elections in Kiel, northern Germany, on May 7, 2017
        <span>Copyright DPA/AFP Marcus Brandt</span>
      </figcaption><img src="https://desiforce.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/d1eedbb45060f5471b46d06a43dcb2c93cd00b31.jpg" width="768" height="505"><figcaption>Schleswig-Holstein State Premier Torsten Albig is seen after the first election results were announced in Kiel, northern Germany, on May 7, 2017
        <span>Copyright DPA/AFP Carsten Rehder</span>
      </figcaption><img src="https://desiforce.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/0a1329c493c42b73029b9230c53fc6b328be2089.jpg" width="768" height="513"><figcaption>Daniel Guenther, candidate of the Conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) party for the Schleswig-Holstein state election, speaks in Kiel, northern Germany, on May 7, 2017
        <span>Copyright DPA/AFP Christian Charisius</span>
      </figcaption></figure>