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PREVIEW Snap state election set to take Germany's political pulse By Andrew McCathie, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s conservatives and their main Social Democrat rivals are in a neck-and-neck race in a key state election. But how will the outcome of the Lower Saxony poll impact her plans to build a new national election government?

Berlin (dpa) - A snap German state election on Sunday is likely to to clear the way for Chancellor Angela Merkel to formally launch what are shaping up to be fraught talks to forge her new conservative-led national coalition government.

Merkel took the first step this week towards forming a new untested three-party coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the environmentalist Greens when she hammered out an agreement in her conservative bloc on the contentious issues of immigration and refugees.

But Merkel has decided to delay launching the exploratory coalition talks until Wednesday, which is after the approximately 6.1 million voters in the central German state of Lower Saxony go to the polls on Sunday.

By delaying the talks, Merkel hopes to avoid the possibility of jockeying related to the new national government talks compromising candidates as they campaign in the state election.

Home to Europe‘s biggest carmaker, Volkswagen, the Lower Saxony ballot also represents a major test of the political mood in Germany three weeks after the national election.

Both the CDU and the SPD suffered their worst results since 1949 in the September 24 election, after large numbers of their supporters backed the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Now, opinion polls are pointing to a tight race between Merkel‘s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and their main Social Democrat (SPD) rivals in Lower Saxony, Germany‘s second-biggest state.

While the SPD is polling at 33 per cent ahead of the October 15 election, the CDU stood at 32 per cent, according to a survey drawn up by pollsters INSA and published this week in the daily Bild.

But coming so close after the national poll, the risk for the parties is that many voters are feeling "election weary" said University of Oldenburg political scientist Markus Tepe, consequently making it harder to fire up interest in the Lower Saxony campaign.

Despite being hit by renewed splits and power struggles, the AfD is set to enter the Lower Saxony regional legislature on Sunday, resulting in the anti-foreigner party being represented in 13 of Germany‘s 16 state parliaments.

The AfD also suffered another setback this week when the home and office of its leader in Lower Saxony, Paul Hampel, was raided by prosecutors amid allegations of fraud.

Last month, the AfD became the first major right-wing party to enter the national parliament in Berlin since World War II, helping to spur other parties to try to block the anti-foreigner party in Sunday‘s poll.

In line with opinion polls, the INSA survey showed the AfD likely to garner 7 per cent on Sunday, which is down on the about 9 per cent of the vote it gained in the state in September‘s national election.

"Since the AfD‘s success in the national election, the other parties have set about making a greater effort in election campaigns," said Berlin Frei University party researcher Thorsten Faas. He said the parties having put more effort into mobilizing undecided voters.

Issues such as education and public safety have dominated the election campaign in Lower Saxony, which has a strong agricultural base to its economy.

But a win for Merkel‘s CDU would help her to regain her political footing after the party‘s poor showing in the September national election.

It could also strengthen her political authority as she heads into the potentially rancorous coalition talks.

For the SPD, victory on Sunday would represent a major psychological boost after its disastrous result in the national poll and after it lost all the three other state elections conducted so far this year.

The Lower Saxony election was called after a Green Party member of Premier Stephan Weil‘s SPD-led coalition with the environmental party switched over to the CDU, led by Bernd Althusmann. This left Weil without a parliamentary majority.

Both the FDP and the Greens gained 10 per cent of the vote in this week‘s INSA poll, underscoring the tough task facing October 15‘s victor when it starts forming a new coalition in Lower Saxony.

Neither Weil‘s current SPD coalition nor a CDU-led alliance with the FDP would have a parliamentary majority in the new state legislature.

However, other coalition options are possible, including a CDU-SPD coalition as well as a three-party alliance between the CDU, FDP and the Greens.


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(24.10.2017 11:37)

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