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German State Elections Keep Premiers in Place

DW staff / AFP (sp)March 26, 2006

Conservatives and Social Democrats held on to power in three German state polls Sunday, signaling good news for Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition.

Oettinger, Böhmer and Beck all were re-elected as state premiersImage: picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb

Merkel's Christian Democrats held on to power in Baden-Württemberg and Saxony-Anhalt in Sunday's voting while the Social Democrats maintained their dominance in Rhineland-Palatinate.

About one-fifth of the national electorate was called to the polls on the rare "Super Sunday" of elections.

The outcome allowed both the conservatives and the Social Democrats to walk away celebrating, and maintain their delicate balance of power under Merkel.

Die designierte Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel waehrend einer Fraktionssitzung in Berlin am Montag, 21. November 2005.
The elections will boost Merkel's coalition in BerlinImage: AP

"It was a victory for Angela Merkel and the grand coalition in Berlin," said the conservatives' parliamentary group leader, Volker Kauder.

Staying put

In the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, home of auto giants DaimlerChrysler and Porsche, the conservatives captured 44.2 percent of the vote, according to provisional official figures. The Christian Democrats have ruled the state for half a century and will probably continue their coalition with the liberal Free Democrats. Günther Oettinger will remain state premier.

Landtagswahlen Sachsen-Anhalt Der Spitzenkandidat der Linkspartei, Wulf Gallert (l)
An air of expectation in Saxony-AnhaltImage: picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb

Voters in the depressed eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt gave the Christian Democrats 36.2 percent of the vote, according to the official figures, and put the Social Democrats in third place behind the Left Party who won 24.1 percent.

The conservatives' partners in the state, the Free Democrats, failed to muster a score that would allow them to continue the alliance, increasing the likelihood of a link-up with the Social Democrats, who garnered about 21 percent, under the current conservative state premier, Wolfgang Böhmer.

A "grand coalition" in Saxony-Anhalt would broaden the Merkel coalition's majority in the Bundesrat upper house, helping it in an upcoming battle over a sweeping overhaul of Germany's federal system.

Meanwhile the Social Democrats scored a historic victory in wine-producing Rhineland-Palatinate thanks to the popularity of Premier Kurt Beck, one of their leading figures at the national level.

Landtagswahl Rheinland-Pfalz - Der rheinland-pfaelzische Ministerpraesident Kurt Beck hebt am Sonntag, 26. Maerz 2006 vor dem Landtag in Mainz den Daumen
Beck was happy on SundayImage: AP

They drew 45.6 percent of the vote, again according to provisional official figures, possibly enough for an absolute majority and far ahead of the Christian Democrats, who suffered a crushing defeat with under 33 percent of the vote.

Friendly campaign

Analysts noted before the polls that Merkel's Christian Democrats had little interest in a disaster for the Social Democrats in Sunday's polls, which could have undermined the already unwieldy alliance in Berlin and cause the SPD to lurch to the left on key issues.

The two parties, traditional rivals, largely steered clear of all-out attacks during the campaigns to avoid jeopardizing their coalition in Berlin.

All eyes are on Merkel and her reform plans nowImage: AP

The chancellor, who has enjoyed an extended political honeymoon since ousting Gerhard Schröder and is now Germany's most popular politician, said this month she would tackle key reform initiatives after these elections.

They include efforts to shore up the creaking health-care system, the possible introduction of a minimum wage and plans to strip away laws protecting employees against sacking -- all

potentially divisive tests of the ruling coalition.

Lowest voter turnout

Zwei Waehlerinnen in traditioneller Tracht Landtagswahl in Baden-Wuerttemberg
Few went voting like these two women in traditional costumes in Baden-WürttembergImage: AP

Turnout levels were the lowest since the reunification of Germany in 1990, ranging from 44.4 percent in Saxony-Anhalt to 58.2 percent in Rhineland-Palatinate.

The press saw Sunday's elections as a ringing endorsement of Merkel's government, and said it was now time to begin the urgent reforms required in Europe's biggest economy.

The vote was "a sign that citizens have new confidence in the policy" of the government, the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote in an editorial.

"The grand coalition in Berlin can exhale but now it has nothing more to hide behind," the conservative daily Die Welt wrote."Now the (conservatives) and the SPD must show how far they want and are able to go together."

The center-left Berliner Zeitung said the government could no longer drag its feet on the domestic agenda.

"Voters have shown that they are serious about the grand coalition," it wrote. "But also that they expect something of it. The clear outcome of the poll is an order to begin in earnest with the work at hand."