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Germany: SPD maintains winning streak in Saarland vote

March 27, 2022

The Social Democrats have won the state's regional election for the first time in over 20 years, gaining 43.5% of the vote. They won an absolute majority in the state parliament.

Election posters in Germany
The SPD's Anke Rehlinger is set to take the office of state premier from the CDU's Tobias Hans Image: BeckerBredel/IMAGO

Germany's center-left Social Democrats (SPD)— the party of Chancellor Olaf Scholz — were declared the winners with an absolute majority in Sunday's election in the western state of Saarland by German media.

The SPD won 43.5% of the vote, beating the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at 28.5%, according to the state electoral board. The CDU has held power in the state continuously since 1999.


The Social Democrats gained 29 of the 51 seats, giving them an absolute majority. That means they will not have to form a coalition.

The SPD's Anke Rehlinger is now set to become the new state premier for Saarland, taking over from the CDU's Tobias Hans.

Germany: Scholz's SPD wins big in regional elections

Which parties will be in opposition?

The left-leaning Greens, the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the Left party all failed to cross the 5% threshold and gain seats in parliament. The Greens were just 23 votes shy of getting in. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the CDU will be the only opposition parties.

The electoral board said, however, that the final result, which follows detailed calculations including the number of possible voters and valid votes, may change the share where this is close to the threshold. This means the Greens may end up with seats, but it is unlikely to affect the SPD's absolute majority.

Saarland is the first of several state-level elections in 2022, and the Social Democrats had been hoping to continue adding to the momentum of the 2021 national election, which dealt a historic blow to the Christian Democrats at the federal level.

The government of SPD Chancellor Olaf Scholz took office in December, leading a three-way coalition with the left-leaning Greens and neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP).

What was at stake in Saarland?

Opinion polls ahead of the vote had shown the SPD was expected to perform well in Saarland. More than 750,000 voters were called to cast ballots for the state legislature, of which just over 452,000 valid ballots were counted. 

Since 2012, the SPD and CDU have governed Saarland in a conservative-led so-called "grand coalition." Now the SPD can rule without forming a coalition.

The SPD ended up winning an even greater share of the vote than predicted. A poll published on Thursday by ZDF Politbarometer put the SPD at 41% of the vote, compared with 28% for the CDU.

 The CDU's historic defeat in Saarland also marks the party's first election since Friedrich Merz took over as party head after Armin Laschet stepped down following their loss at the general election.

Anke Rehlinger speaks with the press
The SPD's Anke Rehlinger is campaigning to become the state premierImage: Oliver Dietze/dpa/picture alliance

Located in a hilly forested region bordering France and Luxembourg, Saarland is one of Germany's smallest states. Its state legislature with 51 seats is also the smallest in the country.

By 2 p.m. local time (1300 UTC), an estimated 28.5% of voters had cast their vote, the state election board said.

This was lower than the previous state election five years ago when almost a third of voters had cast their ballot by early afternoon. Almost 40% of the Saarland electorate had voted by the same point in last year's general election.

However, the board also pointed out that a higher percentage of votes were expected to come in via post, in comparison to the previous state election.

Tobias Hans
CDU State Premier Tobias Hans cast his ballot on SundayImage: Oliver Dietze/dpa/picture alliance

Why are state elections important?

State elections in Germany are important barometers of public sentiment and also determine the distribution of votes in Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat.

While the "traffic light "coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP has a solid majority in the lower house, the Bundestag, conservatives hold 51 of 69 votes in the Bundesrat.

If the CDU were to lose those votes, that could make it easier for the coalition government to pass legislation.

Saarland is the first of three regional elections in 2022 in states run by CDU premiers. However, with only 1 million residents, Saarland does not hold much political weight in the Bundesrat.

A more critical test for the SPD will be the election on May 15 in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia. Other bellwethers will be in the CDU-led northern state of Schleswig-Holstein when it goes to the polls on May 8, and in the northwestern state of Lower Saxony in October, currently governed by the SPD.

ab, wmr/fb (dpa, Reuters, AP, AFP)