Merkel looks to Bavarian poll for election boost
By Deborah Cole, AFPBERLIN--German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives are gunning for a decisive win when wealthy Bavaria goes to the polls Sunday to help propel her to a third term in the national election a week later.
September 13, 2013, 12:06 am TWN
Bavaria's ruling Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), has long relied on a winning strategy of “laptops and lederhosen”, pairing high-tech business savvy with cherished tradition.
That will by all accounts drive it once again to victory, and possibly to an absolute majority of seats in the regional parliament, providing Merkel with essential momentum for the Sept. 22 poll.
But political scientist Jens Walther of the University of Duesseldorf warned that even if the CSU wins a respectable 43 percent — its score at the last state election in 2008 —, it would be “a horrible result for the conservatives and that would of course put a damper” on its general election chances.
Merkel's CDU is the clear favorite to win the national vote with an around 14-point lead in polls over the main opposition Social Democrats. But a continuation of her centre-right coalition is far less certain.
Thus a strong showing in Bavaria with its 9.5 million eligible voters can provide a vital boost to Merkel.
The CSU has ruled Bavaria uninterrupted for 56 years.
The folksy party can expect to win between 46 and 48 percent of the vote in a state blessed with rich farmland, the Alps and powerhouse companies such as BMW, Audi and Siemens, polls indicate.
That puts it within striking distance of dumping its pro-business coalition ally, the Free Democrats (FDP), and governing alone.
The Social Democrats are only polling at 18 to 21 percent.
Meanwhile the FDP, Merkel's junior partner in power, could crash out of the state parliament altogether by failing to clear the five-percent hurdle to representation.
Such a disaster in Bavaria could paradoxically give the party a lift at the national level a week later by drawing the “pity” vote, Walther said.
“(Centre-right voters) want the FDP in the federal parliament although they support the CDU,” he added.
Merkel, loath to take any chances, has made several campaign appearances on behalf of conservative Bavarian leader Horst Seehofer.
She drew criticism, however, for squeezing in a rushed stop to pay her respects at the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich before heading to a beer-tent election rally.
Bavaria is a remarkable success story in a country that has done well as the eurozone debt crisis ravaged its neighbors.
State unemployment is just 3.8 percent versus 6.8 percent at the national level and the CSU forecasts statistical full employment by 2018.
“We have to go looking for highly-qualified staff from abroad because there are often fewer than three applicants for a job,” said Johann Goetz of the Labor Agency in Regensburg on the Danube.