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Cablegate: Hesse Election Update: Opposition Gaining, Cdu Slipping In

VZCZCXRO0236
OO RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHLZ
DE RUEHFT #0236 0241356
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 241356Z JAN 08
FM AMCONSUL FRANKFURT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4470
INFO RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS FRANKFURT 000236

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/AGS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL GM
SUBJECT: Hesse Election Update: Opposition Gaining, CDU Slipping in
All-Out Battle

REF: Frankfurt 0124; Berlin 0022

Sensitive but unclassified; not for internet distribution.

1. SUMMARY. As it enters its final stage, the increasingly fierce
and bitter Hesse state election has become a referendum on the
polarizing figure of Minister President Roland Koch. Despite the
campaign's intense focus on one person, victory or defeat on January
27 will shift momentum for the national parties as they eye the 2009
federal election. Once badly behind, the opposition SPD is now in a
statistical dead heat with the ruling CDU, whose controversial
campaign strategy appears to have backfired. All eyes are on the
Left Party, who may enter the parliament, making it more difficult
to form a government. END SUMMARY.

KOCH HITS HARD, THE OPPOSITION HITS BACK
----------------------------------------
2. Political issues have been pushed to the side in the run-up to
the January 27 Hesse state election, as the campaign has evolved
into a referendum on controversial Christian Democratic Union (CDU)
Minister President Roland Koch. Having set off a firestorm of
debate with his campaign against violence by juveniles of foreign
origin, Koch has emboldened the embittered opposition, who
increasingly characterize him as a demagogue and a scoundrel and
have enjoyed a bounce in the polls at his expense. CDU campaigners
told Pol Specialist that the campaigning has become increasingly
nasty, as election posters are vandalized and foreign-looking
campaign workers are insulted on the streets.

3. The CDU launched an aggressive campaign against Social
Democratic Party (SPD) candidate Andrea Ypsilanti, alleging that she
would, if elected, form a leftist coalition with the Green and Left
parties and destroy the economic achievements of the Koch era. CDU
campaign posters in Frankfurt read: "Stop Ypsilanti, Al-Wazir (Tarek
Al-Wazir, leader of the Green Party) and the communists," a slogan
that the opposition argues highlights the foreign last names of its
leaders and stirs up fears of an extreme left government. Ypsilanti
and Al-Wazir have ruled out a coalition with The Left Party and said
that they could personally not forgive Koch for his campaign, with
Al-Wazir refusing at one point to shake Koch's hand.

PARTY HEAVYWEIGHTS ENTER THE FRAY
---------------------------------
4. The polarization of the election campaign has raised the profile
of the Left Party, whose fate may play a determining role in the
election. The latest polls put both the CDU and the SPD at 38%, the
Free Democratic Party (FDP) at 9%, the Green Party at 7% and the
Left Party at 5%. If the Left Party achieves 5%, it will enter the
parliament, making a SPD-Green or CDU-FDP government impossible.
Each side has dug in, with the FDP backing the CDU in warning
against a "turn to the left" and SPD national leader Kurt Beck
ruling out a CDU-SPD coalition in Hesse. In a separate poll, 43% of
voters still claim to be undecided.

5. Recognizing the importance of the race, current and former
national political leaders have entered the election debate. There
have been strange twists, such as former Chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder (SPD) calling Koch a "weird man" and former federal
Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement (SPD) turning on his own party
and advising against voting for Ypsilanti because of her
anti-nuclear energy program. In an interview, former Chancellor
Helmut Kohl (CDU) spoke up for Koch, while former Foreign Minister
Joschka Fischer (Greens) made a rare appearance since his retirement
from politics in 2005, speaking at a party rally in Wiesbaden.
Current national party leaders including Chancellor Angela Merkel
(CDU) have also hit the campaign trail, making frequent press
statements and public appearances.

6. COMMENT: When the dust finally settles, Hesse will still need a
government and compromise will be necessary. If neither a SPD-Green
nor CDU-FDP majority is possible, both sides will need to overcome
the bitterness of the last month and make tough choices that go
against the promises they have made to the voters. On the national
level, CDU and SPD politicians will have to return to the business
of running the Grand Coalition, after a month of aggressive
campaigning. While the 2009 national election may not feature a
polarizing figure like Roland Koch to stir up the debate, the Hesse
campaign has already exposed the fault lines between the national
parties that will most likely only deepen as the parties position
themselves in the run-up to the national vote. END COMMENT.

7. This cable was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.
POWELL

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