Dossier: German State Elections in Hesse and Lower Saxony | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 26.01.2008
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Dossier: German State Elections in Hesse and Lower Saxony

Check out DW-WORLD.DE's dossier on key elections in two German states this Sunday, Jan. 27.

A hand sticks a ballot into an election urn

Voters in Germany's central state of Hesse and northern state of Lower Saxony will head to the polls on Sunday, Jan. 27, to elect a new regional parliament and government.

In Lower Saxony, Premier Christian Wulff, a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), seems set to remain in office with a comfortable lead over his Social Democratic challenger, Wolfgang Jüttner.

Virtually unknown to many voters, Jüttner even attacked Wulff's personal life -- an unusual step for German election campaigns -- to get noticed. Wulff recently divorced his wife and his new girlfriend is pregnant. Apart from this, the state's election campaign has made few national headlines as Wulff seems to feel comfortable enough in his position to run a fairly moderate, non-confrontational campaign.

Instead, most of the attention has been focused on Hesse, were incumbent Premier Roland Koch (CDU), who came to power in 1999 on a platform against the liberalization of immigration laws, has been running a highly controversial campaign. Fearing that he might lose his majority in the state parliament, Koch has unleashed a debate on youth crime, calling for harsher punishments and demanding that criminal immigrants be deported.

He's also warned voters that a victory of his challenger, Social Democrat Andrea Ypsilanti, might lead to a left-wing coalition, including the Greens and the Left Party, a relative newcomer on the German political scene, which was formed in a merger of a Social Democratic splinter group and the successor party to the former East German communists.

Koch's strategy, however, does not seem to have paid off: His original lead in the polls has shrunk and Ypsilanti has a real chance of replacing him as state leader.

Should this happen, it would also send a strong signal to Berlin, where Christian and Social Democrats are sharing power in a grand coalition. The two state elections are being seen as a dry run for the federal elections which must be held by September 2009.

Ypsilanti's victory in Hesse would give SPD chief Kurt Beck a boost in his bid to roll back reforms introduced by Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schröder, which are credited with helping to fuel a recovery of Europe's biggest economy.

Social Democrats would also be likely to push harder to create a national minimum wage -- a popular proposal that many economists have branded a job killer.

Click on the links below to find out more about the controversies surrounding the Hesse state election.

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