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Social Democrats Lose by Landslide in Bavaria

Germany’s ruling party suffered its worst election defeat in Bavaria since World War II on Sunday. The conservative Christian Social Union breezed through with a two-thirds majority in Germany’s second biggest state.


A king-like pose for Bavaria's triumphant Edmund Stoiber.

A victory for the Christian Social Union in Bavaria’s state elections had been certain from the start of campaigning. After all, the conservative party has ruled in the southern German state for four decades. But no one, including Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrats, the senior coalition partner in the federal government, had anticipated such a landslide victory.

According to exit polls conducted by ARD and ZDF public television, the CSU took a whopping 61 percent, compared to the SPD’s 19 percent. That means the party of State Premier Edmund Stoiber gained almost 10 points against the SPD since the last state vote in 1998.

The Greens, the junior partner in Berlin’s red-green government, were once again the third strongest party, having garnered approximately 8 percent. The neo-liberal Free Democrats received only 2.5 percent and as a result will once again not be represented in the state parliament in Munich.

An epoch-making event

If in fact the 61 percent is confirmed after all the votes are counted, the CSU would enjoy the first two-thirds majority in a state parliament in post-war Germany.

Edmund Stoiber mit Fau Karin, Zweidrittel Mehrheit für die CSU nach der Landtagswahl in Bayern mit Thumbnail

Edmund Stoiber with his wife Karin

The triumphant Stoiber, who unsuccessfully challenged Chancellor Schröder in last year’s federal election, told cheering crowds at his party headquarters that the Bavarian election was "a sensational and epoch-making event." The election day will have "consequences far beyond the next days, weeks, months and maybe even years," the jubilant premier said.

CSU parliamentary fraction leader Alois Glück hailed his party’s overwhelming majority as a "clear signal to the federal government."

On the federal level, the Christian Democrats Union interpreted the victory of its smaller sister party as an obvious indication that the red-green reform politics in Berlin were not meeting with popular acceptance. CDU party leader Angela Merkel said that the message from Sunday’s election was directed at Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. "It is becoming very uncomfortable for him now that we have a chance to push through with our goals in the Bundesrat (Germany’s upper house of parliament representing the 16 federal states)," she told reporters.

CDU Secretary General Laurenz Meyer called the election a "hefty bill" for the SPD and pointed to Berlin’s inability to produce an economic turnaround and lower employment. Bavaria, on the other hand, with its motto of "laptops and lederhosen" has one of the country’s lowest unemployment rates at 6.7 percent, and according to Stoiber is the only part of Germany falling under the three-percent ceiling for the euro zone’s stability pact.

"Bavaria should be a blueprint for all of Germany," Stoiber said on Sunday referring to his state’s successful economic track record and the failure of the SPD to make electoral inroads in Bavaria.

A setback for SPD

Franz Maget

SPD candidate Franz Maget

While the southern conservatives celebrated their 13th victory in Bavaria, the state’s SPD leadership admitted defeat. "This is a bitter moment," the party’s regional leader Franz Maget told reporters when the results started pouring in. Earlier in the week he had warned that a tally of less than 20 percent would be a "serious setback" for the party. In the last state election in 1998 the SPD fared considerably better with 28.7 percent.

SPD Secretary General Olaf Scholz regarded the devastating loss as an expression of the "overall political sentiment" in the country at the moment. The SPD has put forth "brave reforms that are not easy to accept."

The loss in Bavaria, Germany’s second most populous state, follows on the heels of other bitter defeats for the SPD in Hesse and Lower Saxony in February.

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