Contrary to expectations, the CDU enjoyed a clear victory in Sunday's early parliamentary elections in Saarland, and will form a coalition with the SPD. The Pirate Party, meanwhile, surprised everyone.
A new political star appears to have risen in the sky above Saarland. The Pirate Party, on the ballot for the first time in the southwestern German state on Sunday, won 7.4 percent of the vote in the early regional election, enough to enter parliament.
When the party took 8.9 percent of the vote in the Berlin regional election in the fall, it was easy to dismiss the newcomer as a shooting star. But with this latest success, albeit in one of the smaller states, the Internet activists appear to be establishing themselves on the German political scene.
The move into the parliament in Saarbrücken will put wind in the party's sails ahead of state elections in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia in May, where the parliaments have also called early elections.
Despite their success at the polls, the Pirate Party are not expected to be involved with the new government, as none of the established parties want to set up a coalition with the politically inexperienced force. Instead, as expected, the two main parties, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Christian Democrats (CDU), intend to form a coalition.
Kramp-Karrenbauer stays on
In a surprise to pollsters, who had expected a tight race between the CDU and the SPD, voters handed the incumbent state premier Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer a clear victory.
The CDU won 35.2 percent of the vote, while the SPD took only 30.6 percent - nonetheless a respectable result, as the SPD gained 6.1 percent from the last election in 2009. The CDU also made gains, though only slightly, with a 0.7 percent increase.
Both Kramp-Karrenbauer and SPD candidate Heiko Maas announced early Sunday evening their intention to form a government together, with Kramp-Karrenbauer expected to stay on in the state's top political post.
Resentment over the Left
A coalition with the SPD and the Left Party would still be mathematically possible, with the latter party enjoying 16.1 percent support. But in Saarland, the two parties are like fire and ice.
The Left's candidate in this election, Oskar Lafontaine, was the SPD's former national chairman until he left the Gerhard Schröder-led SPD government in 1999 after a disagreement with the party's direction. He would later form the Left Party out of the predominantly West German protest group that split off from the SPD and the mostly East German Party of Democratic Socialism.
Throughout the campaign, the SPD rejected an alliance with the Left primarily with a factual argument. The Social Democrats said with the Left's spending plans, it would not be possible in highly indebted Saarland to maintain the debt limit set down in the federal constitution, which declares that from 2020, German states may not incur new debts.
"Oskar Lafontaine has managed to bring a CDU politician to power for the third time in a row," said SPD federal chairman Sigmar Gabriel on Sunday, commenting on the election outcome. He sees the Left as being on the decline in Saarland – indeed, compared to the last election, the party's support dropped by 5.2 percent.
Disastrous outcome for the FDP
The clear losers on Sunday were the Free Democrats (FDP). With only 1.2 percent, the party had not only its worst-ever result in the state, but also its worst-ever performance in western Germany. The party has been hopelessly at odds in the last couple months, and as a result lost 8 percentage points from the last election.
It was for this reason that Kramp-Karrenbauer decided to dissolve the three-way coalition with the FDP and the Green Party in January, a one-of-a-kind experiment in Germany.
For the Greens, the decision was a bitter blow. They are traditionally weak in Saarland, only taking 5.9 percent of the vote in 2009. On Sunday, the party barely made it past the 5 percent hurdle to stay in parliament, winning just that.
The election results, however, are unlikely to have much of an effect on the federal level. Since parties from both the ruling coalition and the opposition are expected to form a coalition in the state, Saarland will remain in the so-called neutral block in the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament that represents the 16 states.
The federal coalition of the CDU, its sister party the Christian Social Union and the FDP is also expected to remain stable, despite the unfortunate outcome for the Free Democrats. The federal branch of the party will now be hoping for a turnaround in the upcoming state elections in May.
Looking ahead to the federal election in the fall of 2013, however, the results in Saarland could signal a problem for the SPD. With the success of the Pirate Party, it could be even more difficult for the Social Democrats to achieve a majority with their partner of choice, the Greens. Instead, they may end up in another grand coalition, this time as a secondary partner - and not in the chancellor's office.
Author: Peter Stützle / cmk
Editor: Andrew Bowen