As freezing rain cloaked large parts of the German state of Lower Saxony in a blanket of ice last night, causing traffic chaos and bringing trains and airports to a halt, a chill of a different kind was enveloping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s re-election chances.
A bid by her CDU party to prop up the fading Free Democrats, Merkel’s coalition partner at the federal level, by mobilizing CDU voters to donate their second ballot to the liberals ensured their election in a key state vote after concern they wouldn’t garner the 5 percent needed to pass go. (German voters cast two ballots at elections and sometimes split their vote for tactical reasons.)
The FDP’s 9.9 percent tally was the biggest surprise of the night after the party languished below the threshold required to enter parliament in Germany for months. But the gambit meant the CDU dropped to 36 percent, 6.5 percentage points lower than they drew in the last state election in 2008, leaving premier David McAllister scratching his head and wondering how he could have lost despite riding highest in Lower Saxony’s popularity polls.
The Social Democrats’ 32.6 percent and the Greens 13.7 percent will be enough to depose the man deemed by many to be Merkel’s crown prince after 10 years of CDU/FDP rule in Germany’s second-biggest state, handing the opposition 69 seats to the CDU/FDP’s 68.
With federal elections just eight months off, the upset for Merkel’s party leaves the race for the Chancellorship wide open after many had written off SPD contender Peer Steinbrueck as he stumbled from one PR disaster to another. The powerful showing by the Greens keeps their aspirations to return to federal government intact and can only embolden the two parties to go all the way.
Worse still, the victory also hands the opposition parties a majority in Germany’s upper house, an advantage they will seize at every opportunity to block legislation and stunt the CDU’s campaign. The wind chill is just setting in in Berlin.