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Cablegate: Cdu's Wulff and the Left: Clear Winners in Lower Saxony

VZCZCXRO2806
OO RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ
RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAG #0003/01 0281741
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 281741Z JAN 08
FM AMCONSUL HAMBURG
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0208
INFO RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN IMMEDIATE 0189
RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHAG/AMCONSUL HAMBURG 0228

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HAMBURG 000003

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/AGS
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL GM
SUBJECT: CDU'S WULFF AND THE LEFT: CLEAR WINNERS IN LOWER SAXONY
ELECTIONS

REF: A. A) HAMBURG 001

B. B) BERLIN 086
C. C) BERLIN 0022
D. D) 07 HAMBURG 065
E. E) FRANKFURT 265

HAMBURG 00000003 001.2 OF 002


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - NOT FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The big surprise in the Lower Saxony January
27 elections was not that Minister President Christian Wulff
(CDU) emerged as the big winner, nor that the SPD did poorly,
but that the Left achieved 7.1 percent of the vote, thereby
entering state parliament. . As expected, the CDU's numbers --
42.5 percent -- together with the FDP, with 8.2 percent, will be
able to continue their governing coalition. With his
re-election, Wulff's position as deputy chairperson of the CDU
on the national level has been strengthened. He has re-emerged
as Chancellor Merkel's "crown prince;" and, after Hesse's
Minister President Koch's poor election result, he is perhaps
the most likely alternative CDU chancellor candidate. With the
lowest results in Lower Saxony since 1947 at 30.3 percent, the
SPD suffered a significant defeat. Coalition negotiations
between the CDU and FDP are scheduled to begin early next week
and are expected to go smoothly. END SUMMARY.

--------------------------------------------- --------------
-------
CDU WINS IN TRADITIONAL "RED" TERRITORY
--------------------------------------------- --------------
--------


2. (SBU) Traditionally, Lower Saxony is a Social Democratic
Party (SPD) stronghold. Nevertheless, for the second election
in a row under Wullf's leadership, the Christian Democratic
Union (CDU) has come out as the strongest party in the state.
The election proved that the CDU can win elections with a
seemingly unpopular reform agenda, such as reduction of benefits
for the blind, administrative reforms, and even the termination
of Christmas bonuses for public employees. Several factors led
to the party's victory. Wulff's personal credibility and
convincing and inclusive style in carrying out the reforms, as
well as his party's effective means of communicating the need
for reform, proved successful at the polls. In election day
polls, Wulff enjoyed a 67 percent approval rating. Further,
polls prior to the election indicated that the population was
basically satisfied with the political situation and not
pressing for change (ref A).

3. (SBU) The decisive election victory was not only a result of
the CDU's strength, but also due to the SPD's lack of a popular
frontrunner. While the SPD only dropped 3.1 percentage points
compared to 2003, the party suffered its lowest post-war results
in Lower Saxony, just barely breaking 30 percent of the vote.
SPD main candidate Wolfgang Juettner led in the polls on "soft"
political issues, but was never able to rally the necessary
support despite campaigning on the minimum wage and other social
issues. On January 28, State Party Chair Garrelt Duin lamented
to the press that the SPD focused too much on voter groups who
were also served by the Left party. In particular, both the CDU
and SPD were hurt by voter turnout which was at its lowest in
state elections at 57 percent since 1947.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
UNEXPECTED NUMBERS FOR THE LEFT
--------------------------------------------- -----------

4. (SBU) The CDU, SPD, Free Democratic Party (FDP), and Green
representatives with whom Pol/EconOff spoke prior to the
elections all grossly miscalculated the ability of the Left
Party to earn sufficient votes in a rural state to enter
parliament (refs A and D). The Left Party, along with the
Greens and FDP, benefited from the low voter turnout, which
required them to get fewer actual votes in order to overcome the
five percent hurdle. Further, the SPD failed in its attempt to
make the Left Party inconsequential despite moving to the left
and focusing on social and "justice issues" such as the minimum
wage. The Left won most of its votes from previous SPD voters,
although all of the parties lost voters to them. The unemployed
were the party's largest voter block at 27 percent. The Green
Party also achieved their best results in Lower Saxony with 8.0
percent, up 0.4 percent from 2003.

5. (SBU) COMMENT: Compared to Koch's aggressive campaign style
in Hesse (ref E), Wulff's more moderate "Merkel-like" approach
proved successful in attracting strong support in a largely
agricultural state. Further, the lack of engaging election
issues confirmed his personal popularity among all types of
voters. The Left Party's success in both Lower Saxony and
Hesse gives them strong momentum for the February 24 elections

HAMBURG 00000003 002.2 OF 002


in Hamburg, where they are already polling at six percent. With
these elections, they have established themselves solidly as a
political force in the former Western "Laender" with which the
SPD will have to continue to contend. END COMMENT.

6. (U) This message has been coordinated with Embassy Berlin.
JOHNSON

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