For political scientist, Thorsten Faas, the conservative CDU's clear defeat in the North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) election was the biggest surprise. But, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) also staged an impressive comeback.
DW: Mr Faas, what was the biggest surprise for you personally in the outcome of the NRW state election?
Thorsten Faas: Without a doubt, the biggest surprise was the extremely poor showing of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), who are led by Chancellor Merkel at the national level. Norbert Röttgen, the CDU's top candidate in NRW, has already accepted responsibility for the outcome and resigned as state party chairman. But, I think we can expect - in light of the severity of the setback - that the discussions in the CDU are far from over. After all, the CDU has never done this badly in the state before. I expect that further discussions will begin immediately, also with regard to party standpoints.
What does the defeat mean for the CDU at the national level?
I think, at least initially, the election outcome will not have any consequences for specific individuals. Norbert Röttgen's resignation statement was also an attempt to erect a firewall and prevent just such personnel debate from spilling over to Berlin. On the other hand, there have been a number of poor election results for the CDU recently, which means the party will have to discuss issues and party platforms.
The Pirate party captured seats in another state parliament. Are we going to have to get used to seeing a six-party parliament at the national level?
First of all, we must see that the Left Party had a poor result, while the Pirate Party captured seats in its fourth consecutive state parliament. We can expect in all probability that the Pirates will win enough votes to get into the national parliament next year. But, we also see that a certain exchange process has taken place between the Left Party and the Pirates. The expectation, therefore, would not be that both parties get into the Bundestag, but rather that the Left Party is apparently suffering the most from the rise of the Pirate Party.
So you don't expect a six-party parliament in 2013?
Prof. Thorsten Faas
The way things stand now, I expect a six-party parliament would be a long shot, but of course, it is also correct that the Left Party in eastern Germany continues to be very strong, and therefore it is within the realm of possibility. What we have seen in the other elections to date, however - all of which were in western Germany - is that either the Pirate Party or the Left Party got into a state parliament. Therefore, the interesting test case will be a vote in an eastern German state to see whether the Pirates or the Left both make into parliament at the same time. That would certainly make forming coalition governments a lot more difficult, but I have my doubts that it's really possible. The Left Party, especially in western Germany, has quite apparent and substantial problems.
The Free Democrats (FDP) pulled in good results in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia. At the national level, however, current surveys show the party struggling to take the five-percent hurdle. Were the two state elections an exception?
Taking a look at the bare figures, it looks as though the FDP has stopped its downward spiral for the time being. But one has to look at which strategies under what conditions were at work. The focus on the person of Wolfgang Kubicki in Schleswig-Holstein was successful. And in NRW, Christian Lindner won points with a campaign that was strongly aimed at saying that in NRW, the FDP was his party; in other words, suggesting that the FDP in NRW was not the same as the FDP at the national level. In the end, these two election outcomes were made possible by clearly distancing themselves from the national FDP. There is a lot of talk that as a reaction to this distancing process there could now be personnel changes at the national level. This means that if the party can't win with Philipp Rösler [as party chairman] at the top, but only by clearly distancing oneself from him, then in the foreseeable future there will have to be some serious discussion about the appropriate conclusions to draw from that at the national level. In all probability, therefore, we will see a change in the FDP leadership in the foreseeable future.
Thorsten Faas is a junior professor of political science at the University of Mannheim in Germany and specializes in voter behavior. His other areas of expertise also include election campaigns and the political consequences of unemployment.
Author: Arne Lichtenberg / gb
Editor: Gabriel Borrud