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What Rehlinger’s win teaches and why it’s a turning point

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Anke Rehlinger’s victory in the Saarland state elections shows what citizens appreciate in this exceptional situation: to make and find solutions with a cool head, instead of falling into actionism.

While Rehlinger spent eleven hours at night in the chancellery negotiating the traffic light coalition’s energy relief package, despite the election campaign, CDU Prime Minister Tobias Hans tried to attack high gasoline prices using a video selfie in front of a gas station during the electoral campaign.

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The challenger has benefited from increased credibility and also had the support of the entire SPD leadership. Chancellor Olaf Scholz also supported Rehlinger in the local election campaign as best he could.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz, on the other hand, kept as much distance as possible from Tobias Hans and hardly ever campaigned on the spot. This distancing also falls on Merz: it was the first state election under Merz as party leader and not fighting there is at least questionable. In neither case does he have a particularly strong character.

And the fall of the CDU has certainly not stopped with this election. If there was a one-party SPD government, that would complete the Saarland debacle.

Anke Rehlinger won the elections in Saarland with the SPD.Photo: REUTERS/Lukas Barth

Merz is showing these days that he is a strong leader of the opposition in the Bundestag; but he has yet to show that he can unite the CDU and use a well-thought-out crisis policy rather than just dismiss something, such as the objection that NATO should perhaps intervene directly in Ukraine, which also provoked opposition from his own officials of foreign policy.

Poll Worker Lafontaine

But the most important result of the elections is that the left is threatened with disappearing into insignificance. After Oskar Lafontaine left the party and internal disputes, he lost about ten percentage points, nowhere else in the West was he so strong, now he is outside the state parliament, dismantled in the Saar as in the federal government. The SPD is winning these voters back, the gradual decline can permanently stabilize this high-altitude flight of the Social Democrats, also because the left has no convincing counteroffer, the love of Russia did the rest.

Again a pragmatic social democrat is elected

The staggering unity of the SPD, on the other hand, maintains that earlier changes of direction with arms deliveries to a warring party and €100bn in special funds for the Bundeswehr would have torn the party apart.

In all the sometimes very cold appearances of the chancellor, he still has the necessary legroom, but he must not exert himself too much in his decisions in a very small circle.

Once again, with the former track and field athlete Rehlinger, a pragmatic Social Democrat is chosen, not from the left, who lives the theme of “respect” and is close to the people. He wants to create jobs and see the conversion of the industry to a climate-friendly economy as a great opportunity. Olaf Scholz can learn from her how important it is to have the right sense and feeling in the current phase, she has announced herself with the catchphrase “Saarlandliebe”.

The Chancellor must show more presence

But the chancellor has never visited the war refugees from Ukraine arriving at the Berlin Central Station. He now admits his silence after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj’s speech in the Bundestag as a mistake. The fact that he goes on the talk show “Anne Will” shows that he has understood that he needs to be more present and explain his “turning point”.

Overall, the SPD has demonstrated its ability to show leadership in the face of a new threat landscape. Instead of ideologically opposing billions in investment, he wants to better equip the Bundeswehr and improve Germany’s national defense. Rehlinger credibly embodies this, unlike many, he advocated from the start that the Bundeswehr must remain capable of transporting American nuclear bombs stationed in Germany.

[Lesen Sie auch: Sie vertraut auf die Methode Scholz: Anke Rehlinger– die Königin von der Saar (T+)]

All state elections in the Corona pandemic have shown that they are primarily elections based on people and trust. Therefore, the SPD should not interpret the ballot paper in Saarland too much as a signal election. Especially since it also benefits from the departure of driving force Oskar Lafontaine from the Left Party, and his dismantling.

In 2017, Rehlinger was still short of the corresponding number of votes to beat the CDU, and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, like Rehlinger, had an idea of ​​what moves people. Hans only inherited the office from her when he moved to Berlin.

Merz can learn a lot from the SPD

In the May elections in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia, on the other hand, the CDU could win with its incumbents Daniel Günther and Hendrik Wüst, also because there are no SPD challengers like Rehlinger. In Saarland there was a real mood of change. Furthermore, the situation at this change of era remains fragile, also for the coalition of the SPD, the Greens and the FDP in the federal government.

Therefore, the federal political significance of the SPD victory in the Saar should not be over-interpreted. The cement continues to hold in the traffic light coalition, but the FDP will continue to push the Greens and the SPD. Much depends on Scholz, he should have the courage to give the FDP Contra more often so that the divisions between the federal and state governments, as in pandemic politics, are not repeated. To deal with the large number of refugees, it also has to court countries much more.

Merz, on the other hand, should learn from Rehlinger’s success that more team spirit and objective politics would not harm the CDU. He can learn a lot from the SPD.


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