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March 21, 2011

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats have won a third of the vote in elections in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, enabling it to continue the current coalition with the Social Democrats.

Rainer Haseloff and his wife
Haseloff's CDU came out strongest in the pollsImage: dapd

In the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Party (CDU) has come out the strongest party in regional elections, gaining 32.5 percent of the vote.

This was a drop of 3.5 percent, but, bearing in mind the current unpopularity of the CDU on the national level, it was seen as a respectable result.

The Left Party, traditionally strong in eastern German states, came second, with 23.7 percent of the vote. The Social Democrats (SPD) came in third, with 21.5 percent. The shares of both parties were virtually unchanged from the previous election.

The CDU and SPD are set to continue a coalition, despite the Left Party being the second-strongest party.

In theory, a coalition between SPD and the Left Party would have also been possible, but the Social Democrats have ruled it out because, with more votes, the Left Party would have insisted on having a Left premier, which the SPD has rejected.

Merkel's coalition partners on the federal level, the Free Democrats, only managed to garner 3.8 percent of the vote, falling below the 5-percent threshold required for representation in parliament.

The Green Party, on the other hand, gained 7.1 percent, meaning they are back in parliament after a 13-year hiatus. The far-right NPD fell just short of 5 percent and thus failed to make it into parliament.

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Magdeburg Cathedral
Magdeburg is the state capital of Saxony-AnhaltImage: Fotolia/eq663
The most likely outcome of the elections is a continuation of the current coalition of CDU and SPD in Saxony-Anhalt.

Current state economy minister, Rainer Haseloff (CDU), is expected to take over as state premier after incumbent Wolfgang Böhmer announced his retirement.

Haseloff benefits from the fact that unemployment, which used to be the highest in Germany, has dropped to under 13 percent, with companies now trying to attract more and more skilled workers.

Saxony-Anhalt has long grappled with a faltering economy, with a steady flow of people leaving to live elsewhere in Germany. In 1990, 3 million people lived there, now that figure has fallen to just 2.3 million people.

Saxony-Anhalt is one of seven states holding elections this year. Hamburg has already voted a new parliament, Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg go to the polls on March 27. A row over the budget could mean that North Rhine-Westphalia could be forced to hold re-elections this year.

The election in Baden-Württemberg, a traditional CDU stronghold, is seen as a key test for Merkel's federal government, which is facing criticism for a variety of issues, especially its controversial nuclear energy policy.

Author: Nicole Goebel, Natalia Dannenberg (ARD, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Michael Lawton