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Cablegate: Hesse Election Preview: Cdu's Koch Steals the Headlines In

VZCZCXRO9953
OO RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHLZ
DE RUEHFT #0124/01 0111449
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 111449Z JAN 08
FM AMCONSUL FRANKFURT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4388
INFO RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 FRANKFURT 000124

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/AGS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL GM
SUBJECT: Hesse Election Preview: CDU's Koch Steals the Headlines in
Close Race

REF: Berlin 0022; Frankfurt 4380

Sensitive but unclassified; not for internet distribution.

1. SUMMARY. Two weeks before the state elections in Hesse, Roland
Koch (CDU) has made the controversial issue of immigrant juvenile
crime a centerpiece of his campaign. The move has captured media
attention and stolen the spotlight from rival parties in an election
that, along with two others in Germany this winter, will be closely
watched as portents of what might happen in the 2009 federal
election. While Koch has succeeded in putting his opponents off
balance, his poll numbers still show him in danger of losing the
absolute majority he now enjoys and in need of a coalition partner.
His divisive campaign tactics and the possible entry of the Left
Party into the Hesse state parliament could create a political
stalemate after the election where few desirable coalition options
are possible. END SUMMARY.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Immigrant Juvenile Crime: Unexpected Campaign Issue
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. In a December 27 interview with the "Bild-Zeitung" newspaper,
Hesse's Minister President Roland Koch (CDU) commented on a
much-publicized recent attack on a pensioner by two foreign-born
youths in the Munich subway, calling for tougher punishments for
immigrant juvenile offenders. His statements made national
headlines and have become the key issue in his bid for a third term
in the January 27 state election. National CDU politicians such as
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble
have rallied in support of Koch's call for tougher sentences, seeing
a CDU victory in Hesse as essential for the prospects of the
national party in the national 2009 elections.

3. Wolf-Dieter Adlhoch, Koch's executive assistant, told Pol
Specialist in December 2007 that the CDU needed to find a key theme
in its campaign in order to differentiate itself from the Social
Democratic Party (SPD), saying that the current liberal direction of
the national CDU is "poisonous for Koch." Known as a tough
campaigner and a leading conservative voice in the CDU, Koch had
previously used the issue of dual citizenship laws to win an upset
victory in his 1999 campaign, stating famously that "Germany is not
a nation of immigrants."

4. Both national and local SPD politicians have taken Koch's bait
and spoken out against the call for tougher sentencing for youth,
saying that current laws are adequate. The Hesse SPD had based its
campaign on the issue of a national minimum wage, with a referendum
on the issue led by Hesse SPD leader Andrea Ypsilanti, but the issue
has now been buried by the CDU's more sensationalist theme.
Important local issues such as education reform and airport
expansion have also fallen by the wayside as the CDU attempts to
score points on an issue it sees as its strength: law and order.
The Hesse SPD even enlisted former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in
the campaign, who accused Koch of doing little about crime in his
nine years in office.

-----------------------------------------
Coalition Politics: Few Desirable Options
-----------------------------------------

5. In running a divisive campaign, Koch is banking on either
retaining his outright majority (which few expect) or forming a
coalition with the Free Democratic Party (FDP). A January 9
Infratest poll gives the CDU 40%, the SPD 35%, the FDP 9%, the
Greens 9% and The Left 4%, making the race too close to call. Both
the CDU and the SPD have described a Grand Coalition as a
"worst-case scenario." A CDU-Green coalition is highly unlikely,
especially given the long-standing personal antipathy between Roland
Koch and Green Party Chairman Tarek Al-Wazir, who himself has
criticized Koch's approach to juvenile crime. Markus Bocklet, Green
party state parliament member, however, speculated to Pol Specialist
that a move by Al-Wazir to a position in the national Green party
could clear the way for such a coalition. The CDU's most likely
coalition partner is the FDP, which has little enthusiasm for Koch's
law-and-order campaign, but sees the CDU as its only desirable
option.

6. The Left Party is a major wild card in the election. In its
first campaign in Hesse, the party has consistently polled around
the 5% level required for a party to enter the parliament and has
taken supporters away from the Greens and the SPD. The three
leftist parties (SPD, Greens and The Left Party) could emerge on
election night with a combined majority but with too many
differences and animosities to form a coalition. Willi van Ooyen,
leading candidate for The Left Party, told Poloff that he is open to
a coalition but the SPD and the Greens have vociferously ruled out
such a possibility. SPD caucus members told Pol Specialist that
they prefer a coalition with the Greens, but would also consider
bringing in the FDP if necessary.

FRANKFURT 00000124 002 OF 002

7. COMMENT: According to opinion surveys, voters in Hesse think that
education and social justice are the most important issues. Roland
Koch has done relatively little to address these issues in his
campaign. He has instead seized on the immigrant juvenile crime
issue to energize his conservative base in the face of voter fatigue
with his government after nine years in office. While stealing the
headlines, the move has not as yet resulted in a clear surge of
support, leaving pundits to speculate on his next move. Some expect
him to speak out more aggressively against The Left Party, which he
frequently calls "the communists," playing to voter fears of an
all-left government. The success (or lack thereof) of the hard-line
electoral tactics of the Hesse CDU will be closely watched by the
more centrist national party level as a possible indicator of voter
sentiment next year. END COMMENT

8. This cable has been coordinated with Embassy Berlin.

POWELL

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