Premier Markus Soeder of Bavaria and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), emerged victorious in the recent local elections held on Sunday. This victory marks a triumphant occasion for both conservative and right-wing populist parties in Germany. However, the results pose a significant setback for the trio of parties aligning with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s left-wing-led national coalition. The repercussions of this development are sure to be experienced nationwide.
Regional elections, carried out in Bavaria and Hesse, two of Germany’s top-tier and affluent states, engaged up to a quarter of Germany’s voters. Campaigning in these regions, the conservative and right-wing populist parties utilized the opportunity to critique Scholz’s national government, chiefly over migration and energy policies. This tactic proved successful.
In Hesse, the conservative incumbent CDU managed to garner an estimated 34.5% of the votes, surpassing their previous victory margin. AfD, the far-right party, also bolstered its standing, reaching an estimated 18% — a rise of a few percentage points and the highest the party has ever received in a western German state election — ranking the party second overall.
Scholz’s national coalition, composing three parties, are said to have diminished their lead by a few points; both Greens and Scholz’s centre-left SPD are estimated to be around 15%, while the free-market liberal FDP, hovering around 4.9%, might potentially miss the 5% mark required to remain in parliament.
In Bavaria, the longstanding CSU, who has virtually dominated the regional government since 1946, triumphed again, albeit with an estimated 36.7% of the votes, the party’s lowest since 1958. CSU’s hold on power seems secure, albeit requiring coalition with the right-wing populist party, the Free Voters. Having achieved their highest score yet, the Free Voters, led by Hubert Aiwanger, are already demanding a ministerial post.
Meanwhile, the surviving parties of Scholz’s federal coalition will uneasily approach the changing tide since the three vary substantially in their principles. Especially, the business-friendly FDP, nudged out of the parliament in Bavarian and potentially in Hesse, is poised to fiercely advocate for their stance in Berlin.
National, rather than regional issues, dominated the elections in both states. Both Bavarian conservatives and right-wingers opposed Berlin’s phase-out of fossil fuel boilers and the high influx of migrants.
In Hesse, the centrist premier presented himself as a conservative bulwark against the “left-wing-Green chaos” in Berlin. Yet, it’s not just the animosity towards Berlin that sways voters but also the multiple crises navigated by Sholz’s coalition since assuming office two years ago.
These included Ukraine’s war, exorbitant energy costs, inflation, and a swift pivot from Russian energy. Despite the country’s successful taming of unemployment and inflation, Sunday’s elections indicated that countless voters feel otherwise.