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Cablegate: Hesse Election Damages Cdu's Koch; Breakthrough for The

VZCZCXRO2861
OO RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHLZ
DE RUEHFT #0265 0281402
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 281402Z JAN 08
FM AMCONSUL FRANKFURT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4480
INFO RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS FRANKFURT 000265

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/AGS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL GM
SUBJECT: Hesse Election Damages CDU's Koch; Breakthrough for the
Left

REF: Frankfurt 0124; Berlin 0022; Frankfurt 0236

Sensitive but unclassified; not for internet distribution.

1. SUMMARY: The Hesse state election ended in a serious blow to the
ruling CDU and Minister President Roland Koch, whose political
career is now badly damaged after his divisive election strategy
backfired. The election resulted in a virtual tie between the CDU
and the SPD, with both sides, however, lacking the numbers to form a
government with their most likely allies -- the FDP for the CDU and
the Greens for the SPD. Further complicating the situation, the
Left Party, which the SPD has until now dismissed as a coalition
partner, will enter the state parliament after clearing the five
percent hurdle. Following a bitter campaign, the process of forming
a new government will not be easy and may take weeks, possibly
pulling in national politicians who see Hesse as a critical
battleground in the lead-up to the 2009 federal election. END
SUMMARY.

-------------------------------
CDU WINS TALLY BUT LOSES GROUND
-------------------------------

2. In the January 27 Hesse state election, the Christian Democratic
Union (CDU) narrowly won the most votes with 36.8% (down 12% from
the 2003 election), followed by the Social Democratic Party (SPD)
with 36.7 (up 7.6%), the Free Democratic Party (FDP) with 9.4 (up
1.5%), the Greens with 7.5 (down 2.6%) and the newly-formed Left
Party with 5.1%. The outcome for the CDU was its worst in Hesse
since 1960 and a resounding rejection of Minister President Roland
Koch's strident campaign against juvenile crime, and particularly
against offenders with immigrant backgrounds. Voter participation
was 64.3%, 0.3% lower than 2003.

3. Although 3,595 votes behind the CDU in the final tally, the SPD
came from behind in the polls to pull off what lead candidate Andrea
Ypsilanti called "a mandate from the voters to rule." According to
Guenter Hohmann, head of the Hesse Statistics Office, voter turnout
was high in urban areas, which traditionally vote left, and lower in
rural areas. The SPD's success appears to have been due more to
voter rejection of Koch's campaign strategy than its own ability to
attract votes, as evidenced by the SPD's poor showing in Lower
Saxony's same-day election (septel). The breakthrough into the
state parliament is a major success for the new Left Party, but
severely complicates the formation of a government, since no other
party has declared a willingness to join a coalition with it.

------------------------------------
NO CLEAR WAY FORWARD; KOCH IN DANGER
------------------------------------

4. The election results make it impossible to form a two-party
coalition, with the exception of a CDU-SPD "grand coalition."
Although the CDU is (barely) the overall vote winner, it is hard to
see how Roland Koch can stay on as Minister President after a
disastrous campaign in which he burned bridges with opposition
parties in an all-out gamble to win. A CDU-SPD government would
probably only be possible if Koch leaves, either for a federal post
or the private sector. The left-leaning politics of Andrea
Ypsilanti, who has no intention of stepping aside after her success,
further complicates the situation.

5. The parties have until April 5 to form a viable government,
during which time the current CDU government will stay in power.
Unlike at the federal level, there is no formal mechanism for
forming a state government and the process is left up to open
negotiations between the parties. National SPD Party Chairman Kurt
Beck has already called on the FDP to form an SPD-Green-FDP "Ampel"
("traffic light") coalition, an offer which the FDP turned down at
the national level in 2005. Beck argued that the FDP has an
obligation to the voters to help form a government, but FDP leader
Joerg Uwe Hahn repeated last night that he would not consider this
option. The SPD and the Greens have also expressed extreme
reluctance to work with the Left Party, but the possibility exists
that an SPD-Green government could be formed with the support - but
not the participation - of the Left Party. This would have seismic
national implications, since the SPD has refused to cooperate with
the Left Party at the federal level.

6. COMMENT: The results are already seen as a defeat for the CDU
at the national level, although also as an affirmation of Chancellor
Merkel's centrist course over Koch's conservatism. Whatever
government emerges in Hesse, it has the potential to set a precedent
that could be replicated in other states and on the national stage
in 2009 if simple two-party coalitions continue to fail. The stakes
are high, and national politicians are likely to play an active role
as crucial decisions are made. END COMMENT.

7. This cable was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.
POWELL

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