State elections show populism in decline from left and right | Germany
A top election in Germany’s most populous state has revealed a further erosion of support for populist parties at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, challenged Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s traction and cemented the growing authority of the Greens.
The CDU of the incumbent Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst emerged that night with 35.7% of the votes as the strongest party in North Rhine-Westphalia, followed by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in second place with its worst post-war result in the former stronghold of the industrial west.
With the FDP halving its vote and the Greens gaining 11.8 percentage points to emerge as the kingmaker for the influential state’s next coalition government, a power-sharing agreement between the conservative and green parties is the most likely outcome.
The course of the elections in North Rhine-Westphalia mirrored the course of the past weekend in Germany’s northernmost state Schleswig-Holstein, where the CDU and Greens also made significant gains and will probably continue to govern in a three-party coalition with the FDP. Here, too, the SPD achieved its worst result in the post-war period with only 16% of the votes.
In marked contrast to the recent elections in France, which saw the far right and far left gaining strength, both German country polls accentuated an erosion of support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Die Linke Die Linke. The AfD lost two percentage points in North Rhine-Westphalia and fell below the 5 percent hurdle in Schleswig-Holstein, while the Left Party will not be represented in any state parliament.
Allegations of placating Putin may also have contributed to this: the AfD and Die Linke factions were the only ones to vote in the Bundestag at the end of April against the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine.
However, the struggles of the two parties, whose positions are diametrically opposed on most issues other than Russia, date back to the war in Ukraine.
The AfD, which had burst onto the German political stage with promises of a populist backlash after the eurozone crisis and an influx of Syrian refugees in 2015, has now suffered losses in the last eight consecutive state elections, including in eastern Germany such as Berlin, Mecklenburg -Western Pomerania and Saxony-Anhalt.
The left, on the other hand, only seemed disoriented after entering the Bundestag last September thanks to a special regulation for parties with at least three direct mandates. Internally divided between prominent Sahra Wagenknecht’s vocally populist messages and a more pragmatic but also less productive faction, she has lost votes in seven straight elections.
The double whammy for the Social Democrats, meanwhile, comes just over six months after Scholz and his party stormed to a triumphant photo finish in the federal election, in which the taciturn northerner managed to successfully portray himself as a leader in the quiet, pragmatic form of the outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel.
However, Russia’s war in Ukraine has turned some of Scholz’s selling points into a negative, with commentators accusing him of failing to adequately explain his position on arms exports or energy embargoes.
“Scholz is caught in the role of crisis chancellor,” wrote the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday. “For weeks, the war in Ukraine almost completely overshadowed all other issues.”
“Scholz’s hesitant policy of supplying heavy weapons to Ukraine is interpreted by some sections of society as a weakness in leadership, while others consider it prudent.”
While Scholz appeared paralyzed by an internal SPD debate over the failure of his historic policy of economic rapprochement with Russia, Green Party Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economics Minister Robert Habeck managed to communicate their positions more convincingly.
“The way Habeck and Baerbock are leading the country through these times of war seems to persuade people,” wrote Der Spiegel, “with clear words, emotion and the strange admission that they, too, are struggling with the actions demanded of them.” to have”.
In Germany’s federal political system, not every vote at the state level can be interpreted as a judgment on the behavior of the federal government. A month after the start of the Ukraine war, the SPD also managed to achieve an absolute majority in the small Saarland, a rarity in today’s Germany.