The results of the February 15 elections in the city-state of Hamburg were a mix of forgone conclusions and some surprises. It was a given that the Social Democrats (SPD) would re-secure the majority for their candidate, Olaf Scholz. He will serve a second term as mayor but now with a coalition partner, as he was not able to get a renewal of his absolute majority.
While the Greens are his most likely partner, the fact that the FDP made it back in the parliament offers a second if unlikely alternative to Scholz. The FDP is happy with the 7.4 percent result as it signals that the party is still alive in the political arena—if barely. The Liberals face a much more important set of hurdles next year in the larger states.
The other surprise was the arrival of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the parliament—now the fourth state-level platform it has achieved and the first in western Germany. How its momentum will carry into next year remains to be seen, but the continuing crises in the EU, particularly the current clash with Greece, is fueling the fires of protest against the euro.
Another 2 percent gain for the Left party was a signal that there is still room for its messages, particularly among the younger, unemployed voters.
Chancellor Merkel’s party took a big hit and left many in the ranks wondering what that suggests when it comes to measuring the strength of the CDU as a party—not just as a platform for Merkel. Some argued that Scholz had the bonus of incumbency and the CDU candidate could not differentiate himself sufficiently. But what is interesting is to see where the CDU is competitive in Germany’s major cities—or better stated, where it isn’t, which is in a significant number of the largest urban centers. That has to worry Merkel. In addition, right now the CDU governs only four of sixteen states, with its sister party the CSU governing Bavaria. Nine of the remaining eleven states are in the hands of coalition governments run by the SPD, another headed by the Greens, and one now headed by a minister-president affiliated with the Left party.
That leaves a lot of questions about how Chancellor Merkel can translate her personal popularity into successes in the more important state elections slated for 2016. That is not to be underestimated, but it looks like she will need a better roster of candidates than available in Hamburg.
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