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Cablegate: Christian Democrats Likely to Win Absolute Majority

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 FRANKFURT 007642

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL GM
SUBJECT: Christian Democrats Likely to Win Absolute Majority
in Upcoming Saarland Elections

REF: a) Berlin 2736, b) 2003 Frankfurt 3946, c) Frankfurt

4964 d) Frankfurt 5178 e) Frankfurt 5692 f) Frankfurt 5927

Sensitive but unclassified - not for internet distribution

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Bolstered by the popularity of Minister-President
Peter Mueller, the Saarland CDU (Christian Democrats) likely
will retain its majority in September 5 state elections and
improve on the party's 1999 result, when they won 45 percent
of the vote. Opposition Social Democrats (SPD) could see
their support decline to around 30 percent (from 44% in
1999). Fueled by a successful campaign against genetically
modified organisms (GMOs), Saarland's Greens should return
to Parliament after a poor 1999 showing, while the Free
Democrats (FDP) have a smaller chance of crossing the five-
percent threshold. Observers warn of a possibility, albeit
remote, that disenchantment with economic reform could
propel the far-right National Democrats (NPD) into
Parliament. END SUMMARY.

--------------------------------------------- --
Opinion Polls Indicate Decisive Victory for CDU
--------------------------------------------- --

2. (U) Recent polls indicate a commanding lead for Minister-
President Peter Mueller and the CDU. A September 26 poll by
Saarlaendischer Rundfunk and Infratest Dimap predicts a 51%
return for the CDU (up from 48% in a May 2004 poll), 30% for
the SPD (down 3%), 7% for the Greens (up 2%), 5% for the FDP
(down 2%), and 7% for other small parties (up 2%).
Minister-President Mueller polls 62%, far outstripping SPD
challenger Heiko Maas (27%).

3. (SBU) CDU General Secretary Stephan Toscani told a
Consulate representative the CDU's clear lead is due to a
focus on its candidate (Mueller) as well as an appeal to the
electorate's growing pride in Saarland and its
accomplishments (NOTE: Mueller's focus on flexible high-tech
ventures utilizing Saarland's small size and low
unemployment within the state has been a central feature of
the CDU platform. END NOTE). He added that former
Minister-President and SPD left-wing activist Oskar
Lafontaine's criticism of the Agenda 2010 reforms has
complicated the Saarland SPD's campaign because of the
increasingly unpopular Lafontaine's association with the
party (NOTE: Polls indicate that a majority of Saarland
voters perceive Lafontaine's criticism as an attempt to
regain the national spotlight rather than genuine opposition
to Schroeder reforms. END NOTE). Toscani also noted an
alarming growth of anti-Americanism during the campaign,
citing as an example a CDU poster with an English-language
slogan ("Best of Politik") that was withdrawn after
widespread criticism of the advertisement as "too American."

4. (SBU) The election for Saarbruecken mayor (regarded as
the second-most powerful post in the state) could be a
potential bright spot for the SPD. Popular SPD challenger
Charlotte Britz is the favorite to unseat interim Green
incumbent Kajo Breuer (who assumed the seat after the
resignation of Social Democrat Hajo Hoffman due to
allegations of fraud). An SPD victory in Saarbruecken could
preserve SPD chairman Heiko Maas's standing within the party
despite a defeat at the state level.

--------------------------------------------- -
Smaller Parties See Greens Surge, NPD Threaten
--------------------------------------------- -

5. (SBU) Saarland's Greens are the clear favorite among
smaller parties to enter the Saarland Landtag, currently the
only two-party (CDU/SPD) state parliament in Germany. Green
party manager Marcus Tressel credits much of the increase in
popularity to the party's vigorous campaign against
genetically modified organisms and notes the Greens netted
15,000 signatures for a "GMO-Free Saarland" during their
campaign. Tressel does not expect an SPD-Green coalition
(his preferred option) and calls a coalition with the CDU an
option of last resort (assuming the CDU cannot form its own
majority).

6. (SBU) The FDP has a smaller chance of re-entering
Parliament, plagued by low visibility and the migration of
some of its voters to the CDU. A strong FDP showing could
complicate CDU efforts to keep its absolute majority, as the
CDU would need to get 50 percent of the popular vote (versus
around 47 percent in a legislature including only the CDU,
SPD, and Greens).

7. (SBU) Some observers speculate that dissatisfaction with
Hartz IV reforms could herald the entry of the far-right
National Democrats into parliament. NPD national chairman
Udo Voight has mounted a symbolic bid for mayor of
Saarbruecken accompanied by a blitz of advertisements.
Christian Democrat youth chairman Alexander Funk pointed to
significant numbers of anti-Hartz IV NPD protesters at
recent CDU rallies as well as surprising returns in some
cities in recent Saarland local elections as signs of NPD
support. While Green manager Tressel also expressed
apprehension at the NPD surge in popularity, he sees its
entry into Parliament as unlikely. He noted that most of
the party's core support structure remains in east Germany
and predicts the few votes the NPD receives would be
protests against Hartz IV and other unpopular recent
reforms. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the left-wing
Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) remains a long shot to
enter parliament despite months of vigorous campaigning.

-------
COMMENT
-------

8. (SBU) Current controversy over Hartz IV has erased any
bounce the Saarland SPD might have enjoyed after an
unexpectedly strong showing in this summer's local and
European elections. Oskar Lafontaine's vocal criticism of
Schroeder and Agenda 2010 reforms has also hurt the party,
scaring away voters repelled by Lafontaine's perceived
obsession with the spotlight. While SPD candidate Heiko
Maas is a savvy politician and party manager, he is unable
to compete with Mueller's broad personal appeal. The SPD's
best chance for good news on September 5 remains
Saarbruecken mayoral candidate Charlotte Britz.

9. (SBU) A vigorous campaign by Saarland's Greens
highlighting weaknesses in the CDU's environmental and
education policy should yield them seats in Parliament.
Mueller's co-opting of Free Democrat core voters through an
FDP-style economic policy makes it somewhat unlikely the FDP
will re-enter Parliament. Opposition to economic reform may
yield increased support for the NPD (they polled 1% of the
vote in 1999). Lacking an extensive support structure
within the state, however, Saarland pundits predict the
party will be unlikely to cross the five-percent mark and
enter the legislature. END COMMENT.

PASI

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