Opinion: The Bavarian Earthquake Sends Tremors Through Berlin | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 29.09.2008
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Opinion: The Bavarian Earthquake Sends Tremors Through Berlin

The shockwaves of the Christian Social Union's (CSU) worst showing in half a century of Bavarian state elections are being felt in Berlin, DW's Peter Stützle says. The results could have an effect on national elections.


The result of the state elections in Bavaria is like an earthquake shaking German politics. The CSU's absolute majority in the state was considered to be a law of nature but now that law has been smashed and the CSU must find itself a coalition partner -- it's something only old Bavarians know from the 1950s.

The shockwaves from this earthquake reach all the way to Berlin. Angela Merkel wants to continue as chancellor after next year's parliamentary election but not as the head of the deeply unpopular grand coalition with the Social Democrats.

She would much prefer the FDP free market liberals. For that to happen, it's not just the FDP that needs to ratchet up votes. The conservatives from Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party, the Christian Social (CSU) need to hugely boost their support. Right now, however the CSU has done just the opposite, by suffering massive losses in Bavaria.

Peter Stützle

Peter Stützle

Admittedly, the earthquake hasn't exactly put the brand new chancellor candidate of Germany's Social Democrats, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in a better position.

Despite the weakness of the ruling CSU, the Social Democrats in Bavaria couldn't capitalize on the conservatives' disarray and recorded their worst result in five years. Steinmeier's dream partners, the Greens and the FDP may both have increased their gains but a three-way coalition of the SPD, Greens and the FDP can only work if the SPD becomes stronger --if anything, the party has just gotten a little weaker.

One of the most striking results of the Bavarian election has been the continuing erosion of Germany's two biggest traditional parties, the SPD and the CDU. It's a development that has become apparent in all state elections in recent years and in the general elections in 2005.

What's equally striking is that the ensuing political camps remain largely unchanged. Disillusioned SPD supporters usually turn toward the Left Party and partly toward the Greens while fed-up conservative voters flock to the FDP and, in the case of Bavaria, to the Free Voters.

The Free Voters, a grassroots organization which largely includes former CSU members, attaches great importance to the principle that they aren't beholden to any party line. The group however will not contest the general elections next year which means that a lot of their voters could return to the CSU.

The grand coalition in Berlin now needs to roll up their sleeves to finish off what they started. A few important decisions loom in the next weeks such as tax reforms.

It's not clear how the CSU will react in the grand coalition in Berlin, whether it will be stubborn or more open to compromise. If the tensions between the ruling parties continue and increase, then this could exacerbate the frustration in the populace which in turn could accelerate the erosion of the two main parties. In the end, both the conservative bloc as well as the SPD may have no other option other than to forge a new large coalition.

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