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Germany

German Press Review: Christian Democrats Victorious in Hamburg

Most German newspapers on Monday weighed in on the clear victory for the opposition Christian Democrats in the Hamburg elections and the implications for Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

The victor Ole von Beust of the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) did everything right, according to the Braunschweiger Zeitung. Not only did he present himself as a confident, open-minded man and Hamburg native whom people could envisage as their mayor, he also disposed of former senator Ronald Schill of the Law-and-Order Party so skillfully that he himself emerged from the scandal unscathed. Schill’s political career, however, was finished, the paper observed.

A success like this has seldom been based so strongly on a personality regardless of political achievement, wrote the Frankfurter Rundschau. It saw Ole von Beust more as the embodiment of an attitude to life than of a political program; one it described as liberal, open-minded, modern, non-committal, and vacillating. The paper commented that von Beust was able to claim victory despite regional policies that could not even be described as mediocre, with shortcomings manifested by rising unemployment rates, financial problems and the plight of the educational system.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung agreed that the Hamburg elections were decided on the basis of personality, not political issues. And while von Beust was able to translate his popularity into the best result the CDU had ever achieved in Hamburg, the paper pointed out that the Social Democrats scored their worst result in the city’s post-war history. Not a good omen for the big election year of 2004, was its verdict.

The Hamburg edition of the mass-circulation Bild-Zeitung declared the result a slap in the face for the ruling Social Democrat-Greens coalition at national level. The sensational result in Hamburg was not a local phenomenon, the paper said, commenting that Germans have taken the first opportunity to punish Chancellor Gerhard Schröder for his mistakes of recent months. It would be even harder for him to govern after this, the paper concluded.

If the CDU can win in Hamburg, it can win anywhere, wrote the Düsseldorf-based Westdeutsche Zeitung. It commented that the result was hardly an encouragement for the Social Democrats in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, where the next local elections are due. On the contrary, it said, if Hamburg were to set an example, what major city would the SPD be able to win by the autumn?

But the Cologne-based Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger expressed the opinion that winning in Hamburg did not mean the CDU had won the national elections. Only when the conservative Union made clear which reforms it really stood for would it become clear whether the voters would follow it, the paper wrote. It added that voters’ traditional loyalties were weakening. A party could crash out of the running one day, while the next day, another shot to the top. No party could be certain of success, it summed up.

While the Südkurier in Konstanz saw the result in Hamburg as a second chance for Ole von Beust, it too had words of warning. The people of Hamburg wanted political clarity, and now they've got it, it wrote. The CDU could now govern alone, and could show that it was able to get the city state’s problems under control. If however it did not succeed, that twenty-one per cent of new voters could soon be gone, the paper predicted.

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