Scholz’ SPD in the first election test

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Berlin (AFP) – Almost 100 days after taking power, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his Social Democrats will face their first election test on Sunday with regional elections in the small Saarland.

Voters from the western border state with France will elect their next regional parliament, which has been controlled by former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU since 1999.

The vote will launch a series of similar regional polls this year, including that of Germany’s largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, in May.

Polls in the run-up to the election indicate that Scholz’s SPD has a good chance of upsetting the CDU.

Scholz, largely written off just months before his own election, came from behind after a big upset in September to replace Merkel, who was retiring.

The surprise victory breathed a breath of fresh air into his party. According to current polls in Saarland, the SPD is well ahead of the CDU with 28 percent with 41 percent.

The CDU emerged victorious in the last Saarland elections in 2017 and has since governed regionally in a power-sharing coalition with the SPD.

The question remains how much of the national picture can be extrapolated from the election in such a small state.

National polls actually show support for the SPD’s dipping, as Scholz faces criticism for failing to take a more assertive stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or on handling the coronavirus pandemic.

In Saarland itself, however, his SPD is benefiting from the reluctance of voters to rock the boat against the background of the conflict.

“Everything that is said and done right now is shaped by the war. It’s not the right time to resist,” said CDU member of the Bundestag Thorsten Frei.

firewall

The SPD and CDU are likely to renew their partnership in the region, but this time with the centre-left party as senior partner.

Other parties such as the Greens or the far-right AfD run the risk of not even exceeding the threshold of five percent of the votes required for entry into parliament.

The Social Democrats are counting on the popularity of their state parliament candidate Anke Rehlinger, 45, a lawyer and state record holder in shot put.

Rehlinger, who is currently responsible for Saarland’s economy, is convincing with her campaign for the victims of de-industrialisation.

Anke Rehlinger from the SPD seems to be heading for victory over the incumbent Prime Minister Tobias Hans from the CDU in Saarland JOHN MACDOUGALL, Odd ANDERSEN AFP/Files

Her rival, incumbent Prime Minister Tobias Hans, 44, meanwhile, is struggling to hold onto the region he has controlled for four years as he is accused of a vacillating stance during the pandemic.

Hans was installed in 2018 as the successor to former state leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, then tapped as CDU federal leader and possible successor to Merkel.

After the crash in the SPD federal elections, the CDU has appointed Friedrich Merz, a former Merkel nemesis, as its new leader.

Merz canceled his attendance at a rally for Hans on Thursday, sparking speculation that he had already concluded the election was lost.

“We have the impression that the CDU is trying to build a firewall against Saarland so that it doesn’t bear the brunt of the impending defeat,” Der Spiegel said weekly.

“In the end, the results always fall back on the federal parties – no matter how strong the firewall may be,” she warned.

The CDU is struggling to gain momentum.

In order to have a chance in the next elections of the year, which include the most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein in May and Lower Saxony in October, it has to switch.

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