Cablegate: Hesse Elections Countdown: Cdu Confident, but Will

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary. Hesse state elections will take place
February 2, 2003. The current Christian Democratic Union
(CDU)-Free Democratic Party (FDP) state coalition government
is hoping the current voter mood against the national SPD-
Green government will help it win votes. The CDU is
optimistic about its chances for victory and the dynamic
Hesse Minister-President Roland Koch has been campaigning
vigorously. It is unlikely the CDU can win an absolute
majority, however, so would still need the FDP to govern.
The state FDP, like the national one, is somewhat weak and
in disarray. It just squeaked over the 5 percent threshold
in 1999 with 5.1 percent, but is hoping that a protest vote
against SPD-Green will help carry it this time. The state
Social Democratic Party (SPD) is counting on candidate
Boekel's strong team and his image as a man of integrity who
is "close to the people." Boekel has also been campaigning
hard but the CDU-FDP still have a 9.4 percent lead over SPD-
Green. The Greens are campaigning on core party issues and
opposition to Frankfurt airport expansion. The election
outcome is still too close to call. Hesse is still a "swing
state." End Summary.

2. (U) Hesse state elections will take place February 2,
2003 and several conventions and strategy meetings have been
held by the four state parties represented in parliament
(CDU, SPD, FDP, Green Party). The Hesse state parliament is
elected for five years. Currently, the CDU and FDP have a
one-seat majority in the 110-member legislature (56:54).

The Hesse CDU: Optimistic

3. (SBU) The CDU, as demonstrated during its November
convention in Fulda, is optimistic it will be the strongest
party in the next state assembly. Our CDU contacts across
the board give us the same view, particularly in light of
voter unhappiness with the SPD-Green government nationally.
The Hesse CDU may, in fact, be overly confident that "the
election is already won." Some of our CDU contacts do worry
that the party's coalition partner, the FDP, may fail to
make the 5 percent threshold to get into the state
parliament -- the FDP only achieved 5.1 percent in 1999 -
but do not see it as a serious danger. Within the Hesse
CDU, two campaign strategies are being debated. One group
prefers a campaign that is inclusive of the FDP and "pulls
it along" in a battle for the second vote
("Zweitstimmenkampagne"). Another group, apparently gaining
momentum, seeks to win an absolute CDU majority without
carrying the FDP. As insider from Koch's State Chancellery
tell us this latter strategy may be implemented on short
notice in January, if the polls show it could succeed. A
recent poll shows the CDU could win about 46 percent in

4. (SBU) We heard from CDU's Parliamentary Manager Stefan
Gruettner and members of the caucus that the CDU expects its
lead in the opinion polls created by "the Berlin effect"
(i.e. dissatisfaction with Chancellor Schroeder) to continue
at least until Christmas. The biggest danger he sees to a
CDU election victory in Hesse is U.S. action in Iraq before
the February 2 elections. In an effort to forestall
possible voter backlash against the CDU for being too pro-
U.S. and pro-war, Koch is heating up the rhetoric on the
dangers of terrorism. He and his Social Minister Silke
Lautenschlaeger have been outspoken on the need to have
vaccines prepared against potential biological weapons.
"Other nations are preparing smallpox vaccine. Germany is
doing nothing," Koch said. Koch's Interior Ministry is
repeating terrorism warnings, despite opposition from some
party colleagues such as Frankfurt Lord Mayor Petra Roth.
(Comment: As Koch and other CDU officials have told us, the
CDU plans to push back against SPD-fostered pacifism, unlike
during last September's national campaign, when Stoiber's
cautious - indeed timid - response backfired. End Comment.)

5. (SBU) In response to an FDP complaint that the CDU has
given it too little room to maneuver, Gruettner said that
the FDP misses opportunities. The Hesse FDP Economics
Minister Dieter Posch, for example, has said little, while M-
P Koch has done most of the heavy lifting on economic
issues. (Note: The FDP has two ministers in Hesse, Economics
Minister Posch and Minister for Science and Arts Ruth
Wagner, who is also Deputy Minister President.)
Gruettner also strongly rejected media speculation that Koch
would leave politics if he is defeated in February. "Anyone
who knows the Minister-President knows this is nonsense,"
Gruettner said. (Comment: We agree. Koch is only in his
mid-40s, is energetic and ambitious, and has been involved
in politics since he was 14 years old. End Comment.)

The SPD: Focus on the Team

6. (SBU) The Hesse SPD's strategy is to highlight Boekel as
a competent leader with a good shadow cabinet, rather than
"Koch bashing" about the Hesse CDU's party financing
scandal. "Our big advantage," says SPD Parliamentary
Manager and shadow Interior Minister Manfred Schaub, "is
Koch's lack of popularity and the high marks Boekel gets for
credibility." The campaign will focus less directly on
challenging the CDU slogan "SPD-Green Needs Supervision"
than previously planned. Instead it will highlight Boekel
as close to the people and show the SPD's team of experts
balanced between men and women.

7. (SBU) The Hesse SPD is painfully aware of the voter anger
with the federal government in Berlin that will surely have
an impact on state elections both in Hesse and Lower Saxony.
To distinguish himself Chancellor Schroeder and Finance
Minister Eichel, Boekel has supported the re-introduction of
a wealth tax that will have a greater impact on high-income
households and be more socially equitable. The Hesse SPD
believes hopes that in the coming weeks, voter distress with
Berlin will calm down and the FDP will fail to gain the 5
percent necessary to enter parliament, making an SPD
election victory in February possible. Privately, however,
party members admit that they need the Green Party to win.
They hope both the SPD and Green Party will improve on their
1999 election results. (Comment: The SPD's Boekel is still
seen as a bit of a "pale" candidate in comparison with the
dynamic Koch, although Boekel has appeared more frequently
in recent weeks on talks shows and in the media to raise his
profile. Recent polls show the number of voters who
recognize Boekel has risen from 27 percent in August to 51
percent in November. End Comment.)

The Greens: Will Gain Votes, Oppose Frankfurt Airport
--------------------------------------------- --------

8. (SBU) Most observers across the political spectrum in
Hesse believe the Greens will gain more votes than the 7.2
percent they had in 1999. A recent poll shows they could
win as much as 10-11 percent in the state. Under the
leadership of its young and energetic Caucus Chairman Tarek
Al Wazir, the party has kept up a relatively high profile.
The Hesse Greens are expected to pick up votes in south
Hesse protesting Frankfurt airport expansion, particularly
in the absence of any other protest party running. (The
Hesse Green Party has been very outspoken against Frankfurt
airport expansion. Several communities around the airport
along with environmental groups have filed complaints and
lawsuits by the hundreds against the potential noise
increase. U.S. carriers are in favor of Frankfurt airport
expansion.) The Hesse Green party seems to be largely
unaffected by the present problems of the Schroeder

9. (SBU) The Hesse Greens have emphasized core issues in
the campaign: environmental and consumer health issues,
civil rights and education. The party is clearly committed
to a coalition with the SPD. With the exception of
Frankfurt airport expansion, which parts of the SPD somewhat
reluctantly support, the Greens have no major differences
with the SPD. The Hesse Greens feel they can turn the SPD
around to oppose Frankfurt airport expansion. As the
party's manager, Dirk Langolf tells us, he is certain the
SPD-Green coalition will find a way to "smoothly phase out
airport expansion plans, should we win a victory in

FDP: In Trouble

10. (SBU) The mood in the Hesse FDP is worse than it
appears. Though the Hesse FDP is not directly affected by
the "Moellemann factor" it is clearly suffering. The Hesse
FDP tends to be right of center and has a strong pro-Jewish
spin in Hesse. The legacy of the late Chairman of the
Jewish Council and FDP member Ignatz Bubis still carries a
lot of weight. The Hesse FDP just squeaked over the
threshold with 5.1 percent in the 1999 state. The FDP hopes
that the current public mood against the national SPD-Green
government will win it some protest votes in February. A
recent poll shows they could get 6 percent in the state.

11. (SBU) The Hesse FDP is clearly disappointed with its CDU
coalition partner. It feels it never received credit for
reviving Koch's political career in the wake of the Hesse
CDU financing scandal. (Koch nearly resigned in 2000 when
the scandal was at its peak.) The Hesse FDP tends not to
recognize its own weaknesses. Only the rebellious youth
wing of the party has the courage to criticize Hesse
Economics Minister Posch and Minister for Science and Arts
Ruth Wagner for a poor public profile.

Prediction: CDU and Greens Will Gain Votes in February, but
Future Coalition Still Open
--------------------------------------------- --------------

12. (SBU) At this time we predict there will be two parties
gaining votes in Hesse on election day February 2: the CDU
and the Greens. Whether the Hesse government will be CDU-
FDP or SPD-Green is still open. We believe, however, than
an absolute majority for the CDU is unlikely so the CDU
still needs the FDP. The FDP needs to get over the 5
percent threshold for the coalition to succeed. Hesse can
still be considered a classic swing state. We believe the
current CDU-FDP coalition has a slight edge, especially if
the prevailing mood of dissatisfaction with the Schroeder
government continues. A recent poll shows CDU-FDP has a 9.4
percent lead over SPD-Green.

13. This message was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.


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