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Cablegate: Germany/Bavarian Elections - Historic Vote Could End an Era

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E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Bavarian voters go to the polls September 28, but the
election could have an impact beyond Bavaria's borders. If the
ruling Christian Social Union (CSU) falls below its own goal of 50
percent of the vote, it could scuttle the careers of the CSU
leadership duo and shake up the local government. After forty-six
years of holding an absolute majority in the state and one year
before the German national elections, a bad CSU result would not
only change the balance in the Bundesrat right away but also be an
early sign of worsening prospects for a center-right national
coalition in 2009. End Summary.

The Big 5-0: The CSU's Must-Have Target

2. (SBU) The Bavarian state election on September 28 is rousing
voters not with hot topics but with tantalizing "what-if"
speculations on how the political landscape in Bavaria and Germany
might morph depending on the strength of the showing by the
Christian Social Union (CSU). Three questions dominate: a) will the
CSU retain absolute control of the Landtag (parliament), b) are
there signs that the new SPD leadership will improve its popularity,
and c) if the CSU gets less than 50 percent of the vote, what will
be the national repercussions?

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3. (SBU) The CSU has singlehandedly led Bavaria for 46 years,
purported to be the longest run for a party in all of Europe. To
drive the point home, the CSU's ad campaign emphasizes that the CSU
is Bavaria and Bavaria is CSU. In an historic shift, fifty percent
of voters are reportedly undecided, apparently torn between a
yearning for change for its own sake and a fear of changing a
winning combination synonymous with prosperity. The CSU fears
having to share power with a coalition partner such as the FDP. A
sense of entitlement mixed with fear of the unknown could drive a
decisive number of CSU voters to the polls and put the CSU over the
top. Moreover, owing to the arcane formulas that govern filling
Landtag seats, it is unlikely that the CSU will have to share power
with a coalition partner even if the CSU comes in just under 50
percent. If votes divide as polls suggest, five political parties
will enter the Landtag: CSU, SPD (Social Democratic Party) and
Greens, along with a smattering of FDP (Free Democratic Party) and
Independents ("Freie Waehler"). It is still open whether The Left
Party will clear the five percent threshold. If votes split as
expected among various parties, even a showing of around 47 percent
by the CSU might secure an absolute CSU majority in the Landtag.
Most unlikely is a multi-party coalition led by the SPD, although
this is the dream of SPD leader Franz Maget. The new SPD leadership
of former Labor Minister Franz Muentefering, as SPD
Chairman-designee and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has
not yet managed to improve the party's 20 percent standing in the
Bavarian polls.

Analysis of Voter Concerns:
Worries of the Rich and Famous

3. (SBU) At what may be the worst possible moment for the CSU, the
global financial crisis hit just a week before the election. The
CEO of the Bavarian State Bank (BayernLB) had to concede that it had
lent Euro 300 million to Lehman Brothers, bringing the bank's losses
in the current crisis to Euro 5.2 billion. A Landtag (Bavarian
parliament) investigative committee already looked into the scandal
earlier this year, trying to find out the extent of CSU chairman
(and Bavarian Finance Minister) Erwin Huber's involvement. The
financial debacle might cost the CSU a decisive percentage point in
the returns.

4. (SBU) Besides this, Bavarian voters seem more interested in the
American election than in their own, according to both press reports
and an informal show of 500 hands at a recent Amerika Haus mock
Republican versus Democrat debate in Munich. Enjoying legendary
prosperity, Bavarian voters have been half-heartedly debating what
can be characterized as the problems of the well-to-do, such as the
new smoking ban, overcrowded schools, continued use of nuclear
power, or the failure to build the much-hyped maglev Transrapid
train. The opposition parties have tried to rally voters against
what they have cast as the CSU's perceived arrogance. Heavier than
all this, however, weighs the impression that Bavaria has lost clout
on the national and international political stage. The leadership
duo of Minister President Guenther Beckstein and CSU party chairman
Erwin Huber is less impressive and powerful than its predecessors,

MUNICH 00000319 002 OF 002

famous national leaders like Edmund Stoiber, Theo Waigel or Franz
Josef Strauss.

National Fallout from a Weak CSU Showing

5. (SBU) A weak CSU showing in the elections would have both local
and national ramifications. Most immediately, it could end the
careers of Beckstein and Huber, the latter of whom has had federal
cabinet aspirations. Nationally, a CSU "defeat" would have the
immediate effect of reordering party proportional representation in
the Bundesrat (the senate), decreasing CSU representation and
increasing other party representation. This could affect the
balance of support in the next German Presidential elections in May
2009, potentially improving SPD candidate Gesine Schwan's chances
against incumbent Horst Koehler (CDU).

6. (SBU) This negative trend could also have a long-term effect on
the outsized standing of the CSU at the federal level, and, should
the trend continue, it could also produce a decrease in the number
of CSU Bundestag deputies after the 2009 Bundestag elections.
Stronger blocs would pay less attention to the CSU when filling
federal ministerial and other important positions. A weakened CSU
would be less able to defend Bavarian interests at the federal level
and could result in a less advantageous agreement with the CDU in a
future CDU-led government.

7. (SBU) A weak CSU could also damage the sister party, CDU, on the
national level, dimming the Chancellor's prospects for forming a
center-right governing coalition with the Free Democrats after 2009
elections. CSU politicians regularly point out that their strength
in Bavaria makes them a disproportionate contributor to the size of
Merkel's CDU/CSU caucus in the Bundestag.


8. (SBU) The powers of inertia are strong, in Bavaria probably even
more than elsewhere. The current uncertainties may favor the CSU,
motivating the party faithful to vote. There is also the lack of
viable alternatives. Despite a well-liked opposition leader, the
SPD seems unable to overcome its 20 percent low point in the polls,
and small parties like the FDP and Independents in Bavaria are
collecting protest votes rather than voter magnets based on their
own virtues. Still, any figure for the CSU starting with a "4"
instead of a "5" could lead to an interesting upheaval in local (and
potentially national) German politics.

9. The Munich Consulate General coordinated this report with
Embassy Berlin.

10. Find Munich's previous reporting at
http://www.intelink.sgov.gov/wiki/Portal:Germ any.


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