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PREVIEW Merkel allies face historic low vote in Bavarian state election By Andrew McCathie, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s conservative allies in Bavaria are waging a last-ditch effort to head off an election disaster and to halt the rise of the far-right in state elections in Bavaria.

Berlin (dpa) - The campaign for Sunday‘s election in the rich southern German state of Bavaria has entered its last couple of days with polls pointing to Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s regional allies facing a political debacle.

The arch-conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) that has ruled Germany‘s second-most populous state for more than 70 years has been battling to defend its cherished absolute majority in the face of a challenge from the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD).

After securing 47.7 per cent of the vote at the September 2013 election, support for the CSU has slumped to a mere 32.9 per cent  according to a survey published Thursday by the Berlin-based pollsters Civey.

Meanwhile the populist AfD is set to enter the parliament in Munich for the first time.

"There are signs that we will indeed see a major turnaround," said Munich-based political analyst Ursula Muench.

Civey sees the AfD garnering 12.8 per cent of the vote with its party election posters calling for "Money for pensioners instead of illegal migrants" and "Islam-free schools."

"We are in a serious situation, not only for ourselves, but for democracy in our state," declared CSU state leader and Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder at party conference in a bid to fire up  support.

With its dramatic mountain landscapes, fairytale castles, lederhosen and oompah bands, Bavaria helps to forge the global image of Germany. The buildup to the election has coincided with the Oktoberfest in Munich, which celebrates the state‘s beer-drinking tradition.

Home to corporate giants such as BMW, Siemens and Allianz, Bavaria is also one of Europe‘s major economies with its 12.9 million residents enjoying Germany‘s lowest unemployment rate (2.8 per cent) and some of its highest wages.

The CSU has missed out on securing an absolute majority in the Bavarian parliament only once - in 2008 - over the last six decades.

Of the 18 parties contesting Sunday‘s election, 7 could end up in parliament.

As a result, the CSU could be forced into an uneasy coalition with  the environmentalist Greens, which has emerged as the second major political force in Bavaria.

The other possible option is a three-way coalition with the Freie Waehler (Free Voters), which prides itself on offering a broad party platform, and the pro-business Free Democrats. 

Success for the AfD, founded only in 2013, will mean it is represented in all of Germany‘s state parliaments barring one: the western region of Hesse, which goes to the polls in two weeks and is also expected to see AfD enter the legislature.

At a federal level, the AfD shot into the Bundestag in elections last year, becoming not only the first major far-right party to enter the national parliament but also the largest opposition party.

While a weakened ally is not necessarily good for Merkel in general, a bad result for the CSU could help her return some stability to her government after a year of political turbulence.

A humiliating result for the CSU could cast doubt on the future of her interior minister and national CSU leader Horst Seehofer, who has been one of the chancellor‘s major critics, notably on her liberal refugee stance.

The CSU leadership has already distanced itself from Seehofer, who at one point earlier this year appeared to risk the breakup of his party‘s alliance with the CDU over a migration dispute. The partnership has been a pillar of Germany‘s post-Second World War political life.  

Since becoming premier in March this year, the 51-year-old Soeder has set about trying to counter the AfD‘s rise in the largely Catholic state by identifying strongly with the region‘s traditions and taking a tough stance on migration, which has topped the list of voter concerns.

Regularly decked out in traditional Bavarian jackets, Soeder has also incurred the wrath of secular Bavarians as well as the church after he called for crosses and crucifixes to be hung in the state‘s official buildings. The church criticized the state for misusing religious symbols.

Watching his poll numbers fall, Soeder may well conclude that his campaign has backfired. Indeed, many liberal Bavarian voters have abandoned the CSU and swung behind the more progressive policy stance of the Greens, who could end up being the real winners of Sunday‘s poll.


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