Merkel's CDU Suffers Crushing Losses In Hesse Election; Worst Result For SPD In 130 Years

Two weeks after the Christian Social Union, Merkel's Bavarian sister party, suffered a crushing blow in the Bavaria regional election following the worst result for the ruling party since 1950, on Sunday Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats were hit with another heavy loss in elections in Sunday's region election in Hesse, in a result that could further destabilize Angela Merkel’s grand coalition in Berlin.

Prime Minister Volker Bouffier's CDU remained the strongest party on Sunday, but according to forecasts by German TV, the party achieved its worst result in the state in more than 50 years. The election was also a major hit for the Social Democrat party, which received its worst ever result in Hesse and saw its share of the vote fall by one-third compared to the last election in 2013.

Meanwhile, like two weeks ago, the clear winners were the left-of-centre Greens, which saw their share of the vote nearly double, while the anti-immigrant AfD continues to ride the wave of populist dissatisfaction with Germany's political establishment. The Free Democrats (FDP) and Die Linke (Left Party) also remain in the federal state parliament in Hesse's capital of Wiesbaden. That means that Hessen has a six-party parliament for the first time.

Here are the exit polls from Infratest dimap:

  • CDU-EPP: 28% (-10.5)
  • GRÜNE-G/EFA (Greens): 19.5% (+8.5)
  • SPD-S&D: 20% (-11.5)
  • AfD-EFDD: 12% (+8)
  • FDP-ALDE: 7.5% (+2.5)
  • LINKE-LEFT: 6.5% (+1.5)

According to projections on German TV, the CDU won 28%, down from 38.5% five years ago. The SPD won 20%, down a third or 11.5% from 2013, while the Green surged to 19.5%, up 8.5% from the last election with most young and university educated voters, or some 25% of those aged 18-29 and 29% of voters with a University degree voting for the Greens.  Based on exit polls, it was too close to call if the SPD would end up third in the regional election, with the Greens potentially set to take second spot.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) won 12% of the vote, taking it into the Hesse regional assembly for the first time, and after today's election, the AfD will now be represented in all 16 of Germany’s regional parliaments

In the latest blow for Germany's establishment parties, this was the worst election result for the Centre-left SPD since 1887, according to Europe Elects, disregarding Nazi time 1933-45.

The CDU currently governs the state in coalition with the Greens. Today's result suggests this could continue, but doing so could further increase tensions between the CDU and the SPD in the German chancellor's ruling coalition in Berlin. Both parties have seen their support slip nationally in recent months.

The election outcome is a big defeat for Volker Bouffier, Hesse’s CDU prime minister, who is a close confidante of Chancellor Merkel and has ruled Hesse for the past eight years. He had complained that the election campaign was completely overshadowed by the long-running quarrels between the coalition partners.

According to the FT, the result will be seized on by those in the SPD who believe the only way the centre-left party, one of the two parties that has dominated Germany’s post-war politics, can avoid further losses is by quitting Ms Merkel’s grand coalition.

The Hesse elections were the latest indirect regional referendum on Berlin's policies, with campaigning in Hesse dominated by voter dissatisfaction with the government in Berlin, which has been racked by internal conflict.

The CDU has governed Hesse, Germany's fourth most prosperous region that includes Germany’s finance capital Frankfurt, for the past 19 years, the last five of them in an unusual coalition with the Greens. But as today's results suggest, the two parties cannot now rule alone, and will likely now try to form a three-way alliance with the pro-business Free Democrats to stay in power. The FDP has already indicated it would be prepared to form such a "Jamaica" coalition, so called because the colours of the three parties match those of the Jamaican flag.

That said, and given the roughly 10% losses each for CDU/SPD, it is hard to imagine a scenario where results don't shake up Berlin coalition.

Parties like the unconventional AfD and the Greens have grown in national support following Germany's 2017 general election, as support for the major centre parties has waned. And with the CDU's party conference scheduled for December, Merkel could lose her leadership re-election bid. Merkel has said previously she could not continue as chancellor were she to lose that role.

The recent losses have provided more ammunition for critics in Merkel's party who want to get rid of Merkel, but as BBC's Jenny Hill notes, "she may face a more immediate problem" - her Social Democrat coalition partners are in electoral freefall, haemorrhaging support at federal level. The SPD's poor performance tonight in Hesse follows a drubbing in Bavaria two weeks ago. And since many in the party blame the controversial coalition with Merkel's conservatives, the SPD's leaders may decide to pull out of the alliance and bring down her fragile government.

Germans are calling this a 'schicksalswahl', or vote of destiny. It may yet seal the fate of this country's government - and perhaps even its leader.