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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

State elections: Hey, the Saarland

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The smallest area and only 800,000 eligible voters: why state elections in the Saarland are also important from a federal perspective, and what you should know.

Elections in Saarland: Will Deputy Prime Minister Anke Rehlinger (SPD) replace current Prime Minister Tobias Hans (CDU)? © Oliver Dietze/​dpa

In Saarland there will be elections on Sunday. It is the first state election this year and the first since the change of power at the federal level. We have collected the most important questions and answers here.

Who has the best chance?

If the polls aren’t entirely wrong: Anke Rehlinger of the SPD. For months, his party has been consistently and clearly ahead of the CDU, which has held the post of prime minister since 1999. Furthermore, the deputy prime minister fared better in personal polls than the current Tobias Hans of the CDU. And that’s also pretty clear: In a direct election, almost 50 percent would vote for Rehlinger, and only 34 percent would vote for Hans. If there were to be a change of power in the Saarbrücken State Chancellery, it would be a rare event. It would be the first time at state level in five years: the last to do so was Armin Laschet in Düsseldorf in 2017.

What coalition could there be?

Most likely, there will be a grand coalition again, but this time under the leadership of the SPD. The two popular parties have been ruling together since 2012, and would probably have nothing against a continuation. In view of the expected defeat, even the CDU would probably agree to switch to the role of junior partner. Traffic lights or even red-green and red-yellow would also be mathematically possible. However, the small parties in the Saar very small, inexperienced and often in disagreement, which rather speaks against forming a government, even if there is a narrow majority. The SPD could probably envision an alliance with the FDP as an alternative to the grand coalition, if that were enough.

Why are the big games in the Saar so strong?

The inhabitants of the Saarland are particularly loyal to big parties: at the end of 2019, almost two percent of all adults were in the CDU committed, another almost two percent in the SPD, so on average much more than in other federal states. From the time Saarland joined the Federal Republic in 1957, until Oskar Lafontaine broke with his SPD, the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats were always more or less equally strong in the state. Traditionally, the SPD targeted workers in the Montan and downstream industrial regions, who are strongly organized in trade unions. According to Catholic social teaching, the CDU is also close to the employees of the Sarre. Also, there was little room for smaller parties. After the 1999 elections, there were only two parties in the state parliament: the CDU had 26 seats and the SPD 25. In recent years, the SPD’s Left Party, founded by Lafontaine, has been losing votes. But that is over at the latest since Lafontaine’s retirement.

Can the Greens and the FDP come back?

Presumably. But it will be tight. Both parties are currently unrepresented in the state parliament, but are just above the five percent hurdle in the polls. Its weakness lies not only in the attractiveness of the SPD and the CDU, but also in its own mistakes. Last summer, the Greens failed even to put together a proper state list for federal elections due to internal power struggles. With 31-year-old lawyer Lisa Becker as their leading candidate, they are now looking to make a fresh start, but Becker is also not well known. Until now she has been an adviser to her in her hometown of Blieskastel. Another complication for the Greens is that, due to their many disputes state election founded the bunt.saar party, in which former Greens participate. In a survey, picturesque people recently reached three percent. They will steal votes from the Greens.

The FDP in Saarland is also used to pain: in 2011, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer ended the Jamaican coalition mainly because of her, and since then the Liberals have not entered the state parliament twice. Their top candidate, Angelika Hießerich-Peters, is a hotel owner and relatively unknown career changer. But the FDP’s positioning as a freedom fighter during the corona pandemic could help it get more than five percent again this time.

What happens to the left?

The left once achieved record results in Saarland, in 2009 it was 21.3 percent. This was mainly due to Lafontaine, who ruled the Saarland as SPD prime minister between 1985 and 1998 and remained hugely popular there even after his move to the left years later. Also in 2017 when The fountain he had already distanced himself from his new party and was only serving as leader of the Saar parliamentary group, the left still achieving 12.8 percent with him. Although it had been clear for some time that he would no longer stand in these elections, the fact that he now left the party entirely was a blow to the left in the final sprint of the election campaign. The background was the power struggle between him and the leader of the Left Party, Thomas Lutze: before the federal elections last year, Lafontaine had asked the Left Party in Saarland not to vote in the second ballot because he accused Lutze for manipulation and fraudulent activities. In general, however, the left is so divided in Saarland that there are now two left factions in the state parliament. The current main candidate of the left, Barbara Spaniol, belongs to the anti-Lafontaine camp. However, she cannot compete with his popularity. After 13 years in the state parliament, the left is now threatening to fail the five percent hurdle.

How strong is the AfD?

Of the smaller parties, the AfD remains the most stable at six to eight percent. Despite internal disputes: The mini-state association (about 450 members) was repeatedly under the external administration of the AfD federal headquarters. The AfD only sends constituency candidates to elections, and the AfD did not produce a valid state list. Former head of state Josef Dörr, former CDU, is the leading candidate for the Saarbrücken constituency. He is in constant conflict with the federal party and current state leader Christian Wirth. In 2016, the Berlin AfD leadership attempted to dissolve the state association, after Dörr became involved with neo-Nazis. The plan failed in the party court. The state board has been removed since 2020 and the AfD Saar has been run from Berlin ever since.

What are the political implications of the elections?

From the point of view of the stoplight government, which was severely tested in its first 110 days, the deselection of a CDU prime minister would certainly not be a bad thing. She would interpret it as a confirmation of her course in Berlin. Not entirely wrong: if dissatisfaction with the federal government were greater, the Union, as the largest opposition force, would probably benefit as well. At the moment, however, it seems that the three stoplight parties could gain ground compared to the 2017 elections.

Traffic light strategists will then expect a tailwind for the next two state elections, which will take place in the spring in the west of the republic: first Schleswig-Holstein, then North Rhine-Westphalia. The CDU prime ministers also rule here. In NRW, even like Tobias Hans, there is also one, Hendrik Wüst, who has not yet won an election and, according to the polls, is not unquestionably popular.

What is changing in the Federal Council?

If a coalition of blacks and reds continues to govern, Saarland’s electoral behavior in the Bundesrat will not change: If the coalition partners disagree with a proposed resolution, the state chamber votes with abstentions. If the SPD were at the top of the government, the group of so-called A countries (these are the countries led by the SPD) would become stronger. That could have an impact on preliminary decisions by the country’s leaders, for example before prime ministers’ conferences.

The Saarland is small, who cares about the elections?

So is. The Saarland is the smallest area in Germany and, after Bremen, the second smallest federal state overall. Just under a million people live here, of which about 800,000 have the right to vote. Each voter has only one vote, so it is not possible to split the votes as in a general election. But also because it is the first state election since the federal election and the change of power in Berlin, it will attract some attention on Sunday.

What issues are decisive?

The tense economic situation and the fear of unemployment. In February, 25 per cent of the inhabitants of the Saar stated that both were the most important problems for their state. The Saarland remains one of the structurally weakest German Länder: the average wage is the lowest of all West German Länder, many people live on the minimum wage, the automobile industry as the largest employer is weakening , steel production at Dillinger Hütte actually consumes too much energy for the planned ecological transformation of the economy. Corona politics is also mentioned as a topic, in Saarbrücken several thousand people regularly demonstrated against the restrictions. In addition, many in industry and midsize companies have recently had part-time jobs, not least due to delivery bottlenecks caused by the pandemic. The FDP could profit from the frustration, CDU candidate Tobias Hans has recently taken various positions on the issue, from team caution to Freedom Day. Not surprisingly, he recently called for a brake on fuel prices: the Saarland is a country of car drivers, there are more cars per capita here than anywhere else in the Federal Republic.

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