German voters make mixed judgments about Schulz’s alliance in regional elections

  • Official results show that Schulz’s SPD wins the votes of Lower Saxony
  • But the poor performance of the FDP could destabilize his coalition
  • The rise of the far right amid frustrations with the cost of living crisis

BERLIN (Reuters) – Regional elections in Lower Saxony brought mixed fortunes to Olaf Schulz’s ruling national coalition on Sunday, with the Social Democrats winning a clear victory but the Liberal Democrats even failing to reach parliament.

While the result indicated support for Schulz’s SPD, some experts said the defeat of her partner in the federal coalition threatens to destabilize the Schulz administration at a critical time as Berlin struggles to avoid energy shortages and further escalation of the war in Ukraine.

The other clear winner in Lower Saxony was the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), reflecting a broader surge in party support across the country amid frustration with the cost of living crisis in Europe’s largest economy.

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In general, the local elections are a barometer of the national mood, they sent a mixed message about Schultz’s “traffic lights” tripartite federal coalition made up of the SPD, the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP).

The Free Democratic Party, a pro-business party that was never a natural ideological alignment with the SPD and the Green Party, called the Lower Saxony result a “blow” and partly blamed it on its party’s involvement in the national administration.

“Many of our supporters are alienated by this alliance,” said FDP leader and German Finance Minister Christian Lindner.

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The result could destabilize the Schulze alliance at the federal level, said Philip Quaker, a professor of political science at the University of Hanover, the capital of Lower Saxony.

“The FDP is now likely to support any policies that do not fit its platform,” he said. This may even lead coalition partners to seek support from opposition parties.

Preliminary official results showed the SPD winning 33.4% of the vote in Lower Saxony, an economically powerful swing state of 8 million that is home to the carmaker Volkswagen. (VOWG_p.DE)although that is down 3.5 percentage points compared to the state’s last election in 2017.

The pro-business FDP scored just 4.7%, failing to reach the 5% threshold to enter the state parliament, while the AfD was on course to double its share of the vote to 10.9%.

Analysts said the SPD has benefited from the popularity of incumbent Lower Saxony Prime Minister Stefan Weil, who has won his third consecutive term and is seen as a firm hand in turbulent times.

Support for the party, which lost two previous regional votes in Germany this year, has fallen to 18-20% nationally after scoring 25.7% in the 2021 federal election.

State governments can influence national policy in the upper house of the national parliament. They also have jurisdiction over important sectors such as local police and education, which gives Germany the federal nature.

In Lower Saxony, the Social Democrats came ahead of former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives who took second place with 28.1%, down 5.5 percentage points.

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An exit poll from the ZDF put the Green Party, whose political ministers are currently the most popular in Germany, at 14.5%, or 5.8 percentage points, more than in 2017.

This could enable the SPD to break with the Conservatives, with whom they were ruling in a grand coalition in Lower Saxony, and link up with the Green Party instead.

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Reporting by Sarah Marsh. Additional reporting by Maria Sheehan; Editing by David Holmes, Pravin Shar and Diane Kraft

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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