German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s ruling Social Democrats look set to cling on to power in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein – despite Sunday‘s drubbing at a regional election there.
Schleswig-Holstein Premier Heide Simonis (center) celebrated after all
The SPD slumped by 5 to just 38 percent compared to the last vote in 2000. But while the main rival, the conservative CDU managed to gain five percent it seems that may not be enough – and all eyes are now on the party of the state’s tiny minority of Danes in Germany who is emerging as the key player.
The SSW party representing Schleswig-Holstein‘s Danish minority, will become kingmakers after Sundays elections – which developed into a cliffhanger as counting went on well into Monday morning. The Danish SSW has won two seats, but if they make true their pledge of support for the red-green coalition this could give them a lead of one seat over the opposition.
This would then allow the state's premier, Heide Simonis, to remain in office of the northern which she has ruled for the past 12 years. The SPD won the decisive election precinct by just 70 votes.
CDU still pleased
The conservative CDU and their liberal allies are still pleased with their own showing.
The CDU emerged the strongest party with about 40 percent of the vote. This success is a major boost to party leader Angela Merkel and her bid for the candidacy in the race for chancellor in 2006.
"It’s a sensational result and it shows that a strong campaign and unity in the party are paying off," Merkel said. "It’s also a clear signal that the red-green government both at regional and national level is reaching its end. There is only one state left where the Social Democrats can rule on their own. But we will win this state of North-Rhine Westaphalia in May as well."
Disappointment for the SPD
While it seems that the Social Democrat led government has scraped through in Schleswig-Holstein, the outcome was still a disappointment to the SPD. Only three months ago opinion polls had predicted a clear victory.
Nevertheless, party leader Franz Müntefering sad he saw a silver lining - claiming the party has begun to recover after suffering a string of even worse batterings in state polls last year.
"I’m convinced this election is also a sign that the Social Democrats have passed the valley of tears," he said. "We have seen the low point last autumn and are now heading towards new victories."
Greens survive scandal
After strong gains in eastern German state elections last September, the far-right NPD party failed to make the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament. The Greens' party leader Claudia Roth said this is, however, no reason to let up in the fight against the neo-Nazis.
"I’m very relieved that the voters have shown the red card to the neo-Nazis," she said. "But this is of course no reason to slow efforts to curb the resurgence of right-wing and anti-Semitic sentiments."
With about 6 percent the Greens were able to win as many votes as 5 years ago – and that in spite of the scandal over unchecked immigration currently engulfing their charismatic figurehead, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
The liberals slumped slightly to 6.6 percent. Although the Danish minority traditionally supports the Social Democrats, their leaders said on Monday they would hold talks with all parties before deciding whether or not to tolerate a minority red-green government.