Election in Mecklenburg: a yellow card for Merkel
A local parliamentary election was held on 4 September in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The SPD led by the state’s Minister-President Erwin Sellering garnered the largest number of votes – 30.6% as compared to 35.6% in 2011. The CDU finished third, receiving only 19% of the vote (23% in 2011). They trailed the anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic party known as Alternative for Germany (AfD), which convinced 20.8% of the voters to support it in what was its electoral debut in this north-eastern federal state. The support level for the Left Party, which is traditionally strong in the eastern federal states, was 5.2 percentage points lower than in the previous election at 13.2%. The Green Party (4.8%) and the neo-Nazi NPD party (3%) did not make it to the Landtag. The liberal party FDP (3%) also failed to return to the local parliament. Voter turnout reached 61.63%—10 percentage points higher than in 2011.
- The electoral behaviour of residents of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is not representative of Germany as a whole, nor does it have a decisive impact on the outcome of the general election. This is the least densely populated federal state, with the third-lowest population level (1.6 million) and the lowest GDP per resident. The unemployment rate in Mecklenburg in August 2016 reached 9% (6.1% in Germany as a whole).
- The decisive factor in the SPD’s victory was the great popularity of its leader – 73% of residents of the federal state are satisfied with Erwin Sellering’s work. In the election campaign, he consistently distanced himself from the federal government’s policy, especially as regards accepting refugees. Opinion polls conducted after the attacks near Würzburg and in Ansbach prove that this has been appreciated by voters. The SPD hopes that the ‘Sellering effect’ will also help it keep the leading position (24% support at present) in Berlin, where a local election will be held on 18 September.
- The CDU’s result may be treated as a review of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migration policy and a manifestation of fear by voters in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, who are traditionally distrustful of foreigners. It can also be viewed as a symbolic defeat for Merkel, since her constituency is located in this federal state. More voices inside the CDU insisting on adopting a stricter migration policy need to be expected, although the chancellor’s stance on this issue has changed significantly over the past few months to become more restrictive.
- It turned out that the party to have benefitted most from Merkel’s policy is the AfD, whose support level in Mecklenburg at the beginning of 2016 was only 5.5%. Its anti-immigrant campaign helped the grouping mobilise above all the section of the electorate who usually do not vote (which explains the large increase in voter turnout) and to reduce the number of supporters of the CDU, the Left Party and also the SPD. Another greatest loser of the election, apart from the CDU, is the neo-Nazi party NPD, which will no longer be represented in any of the German Landtags.
- The distribution of the 71 seats in the Landtag offers the Social Democrats the opportunity to choose between two coalition configurations: the continuation of its 10-year co-operation with the CDU, or forging an alliance with the weakened Left Party. Erwin Sellering will not hurry to form a new cabinet so that he can guarantee the best conditions for the SPD by playing the two candidates for coalition partner against each other.
- Whichever coalition Sellering chooses, this will not essentially change the balance of powers in the Bundesrat, the upper house of German parliament where representatives of the local governments have seats. The Grand Coalition has already lost its majority in the Bundesrat. The federal states governed or co-governed by the CDU, the CSU and the SPD have 20 of the 69 votes there. If a red-red (SPD-Left) coalition is formed in Mecklenburg, the government camp would lose three votes vested in this federal state.