Berlin 2016 – A state election with national impact

Latest update from the German state election includes: SPD Mayor remains in office, Grand coalition lost voters’ trust, AfD attracted non voters, FDP back in Parliament, pirates out.

Government parties suffer
The incumbent mayor Michael Müller and his SPD won the state elections with 21.6% of the votes. Müller succeeded the popular Klaus Wowereit in office in 2014 and governed in a grand coalition since. Both parties, the social democratic SPD and the conservative CDU, achieved their worst result in history in a Berlin state election. The Left Party and the Greens gained almost equal number of votes (15.6% and 15.2%), the liberal FDP re-enters the Parliament.

Increased turnout benefits AfD
Both established parties racked up losses – the increased voter turnout of 67.7% (+6.7%) mainly benefited the right-wing populist AfD which gained an impressive 14.2% of the votes from a standing start. Similar to other recent state elections, about one third of AfD voters did not go to the election in 2011. In addition, tens of thousands of former voters of miscellaneous parties put their trust in the AfD in this year. The CDU lost the most voters among the established parties to the AfD.

Election campaigns almost invisible
None of the parties took the chance to set a specific agenda in the run-up to this state election, making it almost impossible for voters to differentiate. Stressing top candidates – like the SPD and the CDU – obviously did not help either. Campaigns focused on local issues in the districts (bike paths, schools, public safety) rather than on challenges affecting Berlin as a state.

Chancellor Merkel’s CDU weakened
The CDU experiences another poor result in a state election. Party representatives blamed Berlin’s traditionally more liberally oriented population for the great loss, saying that the voters did not give credit for the party’s achievements in the past years.

The more votes the CDU will lose in the upcoming three state elections before the federal elections in 2017, the more Chancellor Merkel’s position within the party and the governing federal coalition will be weakened. It will be essential to regain the insecure voters’ trust through practical Realpolitik and through conveying the feeling that integration works. Otherwise, if the AfD continues to succeed in instilling fear and in mobilising disillusioned voters, it will establish itself as a political force on the right of the centre in the long-term.

Impact on federal elections
Significant disagreements disrupted the work of the two coalition partners SPD and CDU over the last months. Therefore, the SPD leadership has already voiced sympathy for a SPD-led coalition with the Left party and the Greens (“r2g-coalition”).

The Berlin elections barely predict the upcoming Federal Elections outcome in 2017 but manifest the end of the traditional two-party coalitions, both on state and federal level. Since AfD and FDP are likely to join the Federal Parliament by 2017, the majority of the current parties is expected to further diminish. The smaller parliamentary parties will gain political influence as potential kingmakers in three or more party coalitions, such as r2g-coalitions. Thus, the performance of the probable Berlin r2g-coalition will be watched closely with regard to the 2017 Federal Elections.

Words Christian Thams (Burson-Marsteller Germany)
Photos CC/Flickr Roman Lashkin

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