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Cablegate: Saarland State Election: All Parties Nervous About

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1. Summary: Saarland will hold its state election on August 30, and
recent polls suggest the race is wide open with a number of
coalitions possible. The uncertainty is making all the parties
nervous, particularly with federal elections just four weeks away
and the likelihood that the results, whatever they may be, will
shape the campaigns of all the state parties for the September 27
federal vote. Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Minister-President
Peter Mueller is seeking a coalition with the Free Democratic Party
(FDP). Social Democratic Party (SPD) challenger Heiko Maas is
officially keeping all options open, but Social Democrats concede
privately that if they manage to lead a new government, they will
most likely do it via an SPD-Left Party-Greens coalition. With
polls showing that neither of these options currently has a
majority, the election will likely hinge on the ability of the
parties to get out the vote and, as one Social Democratic official
told us, "whether the voters want to get rid of Mueller more than
they are worried about the possibility of a red-red coalition." End

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No Clear Winner - Everything is Possible

2. Polls this year along with European Parliament and local
election results indicate that the CDU has all but no chance of a
solo victory. In 2004, Mueller won an absolute parliamentary
majority with 47.5 percent of the vote (with the SPD at 30.8, the
Greens at 5.6 and the FDP at 5.2). Two separate polls published on
August 21 suggest that voters are split almost evenly between left
and right, so that even a slight shift could change the balance.
The CDU is at 38 percent according to an infratest dimap poll (36
percent in a Forschungsgruppe Wahlen (FW) poll), the SPD at 26 (in
both polls), the Left is at 15 in infratest and 16 percent in FW.
Both polls put the FDP at 9 percent and the Greens at 6 percent.

3. Initially, all sides thought the campaign would center on a duel
between Mueller and Oskar Lafontaine, the current Left Party
national leader and former SPD Minister-President (1985-98)in
Saarland. The CDU would have liked such a race, but Lafontaine's
inability to win high-level SPD or trade union defections to the
Left Party and its third-place showing in the European Parliament
vote in June make the prospects of another Lafontaine
minister-presidency look highly unlikely. The CDU's initial focus
on Lafontaine, however, allowed Maas to go relatively unchallenged
as he has sought to sell himself to Saarlanders.

4. Maas has taken advantage of dissatisfaction with the Mueller
government, particularly its consolidation of primary schools in
small-town areas and introduction of university fees, while also
running a very slick candidate-centered campaign in which he has
presented himself as the "new man." He has plastered the state with
billboards that, as one Social Democratic contact noted, look more
like a Hugo Boss ad than an SPD poster, but appear to be appealing
to prospective voters, as even Christian Democratic officials
concede. After a slow start, however, the CDU has swung into full
gear and held a rousing campaign rally on Wednesday with Chancellor
Angela Merkel, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, and
Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust (as well as three bands and
fire-breathing acrobats) to rally the troops with a focus on
preventing a left-left coalition.

Turnout will be Crucial

5. All sides say that every vote will count in determining what
coalition comes out of Sunday's results. Turnout should be
important; SPD voters unhappy with the Schroeder government sat at
home in 2004 but may be ready to come back to vote for Maas, while
the CDU is also making an all out effort to get out its vote.
Turnout is also likely to affect the showing for the Greens and FDP,
both of which are relatively weak in Saarland because of the small
size of the middle-class professionals and educated elite that make
up their base. The Greens have a small chance of slipping under the
five-percent hurdle if turnout is particularly strong, and CDU
officials say off the record that it would increase the chances of a
CDU-FDP parliamentary majority.

Who's On Top?

6. Several coalitions are possible, although most of the options
would entail long and difficult negotiations. Both the CDU and FDP
say they want a joint government, and if they can eke out even a
one-vote majority, they will quickly seek to complete negotiations
before September 27. Maas and the SPD are officially keeping all
options open, but SPD officials tell us off the record that they are
ready to try to form a red-red-green coalition. SPD chancellor
candidate and Foreign Minister Steinmeier has also said publicly

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that he does not see a problem with red-red. According to the
press, however, the SPD wants to have more than a one-seat majority
to avoid a potential repeat of the Hessen debacle when defections
up-ended a planned leftist coalition. Coalition negotiations will
likely be difficult and continue past the Bundestag vote due to
political considerations and policy differences, particularly on
coal mining.

7. If neither of these coalitions is possible, consideration may
turn to a CDU-FDP-Green "Jamaica" coalition or an SPD-FDP-Greens
"traffic light" coalition. The presence of von Beust, who heads a
CDU-Greens government, at the CDU rally may be a sign of the CDU's
readiness to talk to the Greens, and CDU officials have argued
privately that their environmental policies are not far apart. The
Greens officially support a traffic light coalition, but current
polls suggest that it is unlikely to gain a parliamentary majority.
The final option is a grand coalition, but both CDU and SPD
officials see this as truly the last resort.

8. Comment: The Saarland race is wide open and indicative of the
changes in German party politics that have forced German politicians
to live with uncertainty. A five-party system can make coalition
building very difficult, and while all sides argue that the Saarland
race is about state politics rather than the upcoming national
elections, the results will nevertheless affect not only how the
parties campaign for September 27 but have precedential value for
how they think about building majority coalitions on the national
level. End comment.

9. This cable was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.


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