Cablegate: Hamburg Elections Too Close to Call

DE RUEHAG #0005/01 0531210
P 221210Z FEB 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


B. B) BERLIN 0137
C. C) 07 HAMBURG 068
D. D) 07 HAMBURG 065

HAMBURG 00000005 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: National and Hesse party leaders are
anxiously awaiting Hamburg's February 24 state election results
before taking critical decisions that could shape the political
climate ahead of the 2009 Bundestag elections (Ref A). Despite
the polls, Consulate contacts say that the election outcome is
difficult to predict and the implementation of Hamburg's new
election law may complicate election results. As the Christian
Democratic Union (CDU) is likely to lose its absolute majority
in the state parliament, two- and three-party coalition options
will likely be the hot topic after the election results are in.
Current polling data suggests that, outside of a grand
coalition, two-party coalitions may not reach sufficient numbers
to hold a majority, a consequence, in part, of the Left Party's
emergence on Hamburg's political landscape. The main question
will likely be whether the CDU will cinch a coalition with the
Greens, something the latter has dismissed, or whether the
national grand coalition will be duplicated in Hamburg. As for
three-party coalitions, both the Social Democrats (SPD) and
Greens have publicly ruled out a coalition with or tolerated by
the Left. A CDU-FDP-Greens coalition, which may turn out to be
numerically possible, has been dismissed by the liberal Free
Democrats (FDP), which will not cooperate with the Greens.
Unless parties reverse positions -- always a possibility -- the
most likely post-election scenario may be a CDU-led "grand
coalition" with the SPD. END SUMMARY.

Election Outcome Unclear

2. (SBU) In the week prior to the election, all of ConGen
Hamburg's contacts agree that the election outcome is difficult
to predict. In five polls released between February 14 and 18,
the CDU received between 39 and 42 percent and the SPD between
32 and 35 percent. The Greens have been polling between nine
and eleven percent; the Left Party's results range between seven
and nine percent; and the FDP has been holding steady at five
percent. Voter turnout, however, will play a role with high
turnout benefiting the larger parties, while the Greens, Left
Party, and FDP will likely gain a higher percentage of the vote
if turnout is low. Further, Hamburg voters will be using
unfamiliar ballots for these state and municipal elections.
Under a new electoral law, each voter will be able to vote for a
party and a total of five candidates for the state legislature
and the municipal commissions (i.e. a total of twelve votes).
Politicians fear that this new ballot may be confusing and lead
to a high number of invalid ballots, which may bring election
results into question.

3. (U) The main contest, clearly, is between the CDU and SPD in
what has traditionally been SPD territory. It was only in 2001,
after 44 years of SPD leadership, that the CDU's Ole von Beust
was able to cinch the elections as mayor in Hamburg. Although
the SPD regularly carries this city-state in national elections,
carrying 47 percent of the vote in the 2005 Bundestag elections,
the CDU has kept the SPD at bay in Hamburg. This is mainly due
to von Beust's personal popularity, which has held at over 50
percent since September 2007. Despite his "blackout" during
closing remarks in a February 17 televised debate, SPD
candidate, journalist Michael Naumann, has gained 14 percentage
points in his popularity ratings since September and is now
polling at 43 percent. Education has become the leading topic
in the election, followed by unemployment and social equality
issues. The SPD leads in voter confidence in both education and
social equality issues, while the CDU is seen as more capable in
solving unemployment and continuing economic growth.

Coalition Options: No Easy Choices

4. (SBU) Despite these unknown factors regarding the actual
election outcome, the focal point after the dust settles on the
election results will be on coalition options. Current polls
show it numerically unlikely that the CDU could maintain its
absolute majority or form a coalition with the FDP, which might
not even muster the five percent needed to enter state
parliament. A CDU-Green coalition also appears problematic. In
a meeting with Pol/Econ Off February 6, Greens Hamburg
Chairperson and Bundestag Member Anja Hajduk said that
speculation over a Black-Green (CDU/Green) government, which may
be numerically possible, is highly unrealistic. She dismissed
Mayor von Beust's musings over such a coalition as merely
tactical and noted that the Greens' poll ratings dropped after
the debate on a Black-Green coalition started in the press.
Hajduk added that a Black-Green coalition would be difficult to

HAMBURG 00000005 002.2 OF 002

conceive due to important local policy differences between the
two parties on environmental and education matters. In a
conversation with Pol/Econ Off on February 7, Hamburg CDU
Chairperson Gregor Jaecke speculated that even if the Greens
leadership were willing to form a coalition with the CDU, the
party base, which is required to approve coalition agreements,
would not support it. Hajduk told us that the Greens would be
prepared to enter coalition talks with the CDU if a Red-Green or
"grand coalition" government is not feasible, although such an
option would still be controversial within the Hamburg Greens
who are traditionally more left-leaning than average.

5. (SBU) It is also unlikely that the SPD together with the
Greens will out-perform current polls and obtain enough
parliamentary seats to form a majority. While Hajduk
acknowledged that the SPD still remains the Hamburg Greens'
desired coalition partner, she conceded that on the state and
federal level the Greens are increasingly contemplating ways to
overcome their "Babylonian captivity" with the SPD. Further,
while the polls do show that the SPD, Greens and Left Party will
easily have enough votes to form a coalition, the SPD and Greens
both in public and private meetings have categorically ruled out
this option. [Note: The SPD also made such public
pronouncements in Hesse, but recent press reports and Embassy
Berlin Pol M/C discussions February 21 with Hesse SPD party
leaders reveal that the national and Hesse SPD are seriously
considering an SPD-Green coalition supported by the Left. End

6. (SBU) Observers and contacts have pointed to a "grand
coalition" between the SPD and CDU as a likely scenario. Both
von Beust and Naumann have publicly said a "grand coalition" is
their least-preferred option, nevertheless both Jaecke and SPD
Caucus Leader Michael Neumann admitted that their parties would
be willing to enter negotiations. Jaecke expected that the SPD
would be more willing to form a "grand coalition" with the CDU
than to see a Black-Green government come to power.


7. (SBU) Assuming that the polls have correctly projected the
results of Hamburg's elections, this Northern German city-state
will send several messages to the national parties in Berlin.
The first message is that the Left Party has firmly established
itself in the "western" German political scene, thereby further
cementing Germany's five-party political system, and making
two-party coalitions numerically more difficult. [Note: Mission
Germany will be reporting on the emergence of the Left Party
following the Hamburg elections. End Note.] Second, although
the CDU may not be able to maintain its absolute majority, the
party hopes to underscore that it can be successful as an urban
party that is electable even in strong SPD territory. Third,
under Naumann the SPD has gained momentum in Hamburg, but
continues to face the challenge of differentiating its policies
from those of the CDU and the Left Party. Although von Beust
leads in candidate popularity numbers, 30 percent of the voters
would prefer to see a SPD/Green government (versus 17 percent
for a CDU/FDP coalition). END COMMENT.

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

© Scoop Media

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