German voters turn their backs on government parties in regional elections

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Germany’s conservative opposition won two decisive victories in regional elections on Sunday, while the three parties in chancellor Olaf Scholz’s governing coalition saw their share of their vote shrink in both states.

But the day’s other big winner was the far-right Alternative for Germany which has soared in the polls in recent months on a wave of anger over rising refugee numbers.

Projections from public broadcaster ARD, based on exit polls, put the AfD on 15.3 per cent in the southern state of Bavaria and on 16.6 per cent in the central state of Hesse — their best ever result in a west German state.

Alice Weidel, co-chair of the party said more and more voters were “dissatisfied with the prohibitionist approach of this government, which enacts policies against its own people”.

“The results for the AfD are really alarming,” said Omid Nouripour, national co-leader of the Greens, “and we have to do everything we can to regain people’s trust.”

The results in Hesse and Bavaria underscored widespread popular disenchantment with Scholz’s government, a highly fractious alliance of Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP) that is unprecedented in postwar German history.

Migration, inflation, high energy costs and a lingering recession have weighed heavily on the mood of voters and turned them against the government parties. There has also been widespread frustration with the continual squabbling and internal rivalries between the coalition partners.

“The question of migration hit the election campaign in the last two weeks with full force,” said Bettina Stark-Watzinger, the liberal education minister.

The main conservative opposition parties won both elections. ARD projections put the centre-right Christian Democratic Union at 35.3 per cent in Hesse, up 8.3 points on the last election in 2018, while its sister party the Christian Social Union won the Bavarian election with 36.8 per cent.

All three government parties saw their share of the vote shrink. But it was a particularly depressing night for Scholz’s SPD, which had hoped to regain power in Hesse after 25 years in opposition. It saw its share of the vote shrink to just 15.7 per cent, its worst ever result in the state, which from the 1950s to the late ‘90s was an SPD stronghold. The party also performed poorly in Bavaria, winning just 8.4 per cent of the vote

“These are two defeats for the SPD,” said Lars Klingbeil, SPD co-leader.

“It’s an unbelievably awesome day for the CDU in Hesse,” said the state’s prime minister Boris Rhein, who leads the Christian Democrats in the state.

The CDU is traditionally strong in Hesse and the CSU has ruled Bavaria continuously since 1957. The results of the election suggest that the current governments in Bavaria and Hesse can continue in their present form. Hesse is run by a CDU-Green coalition, Bavaria by a tie-up between the CSU and the conservative Freie Wähler or Free Voters, which garnered 14.3 per cent on Sunday — its best result in the state.

“Bavaria chose stability and the CSU has clearly won this election,” said Markus Söder, Bavaria’s current prime minister and CSU leader.

The CSU’s victory could bolster Söder who is widely believed to aspire to be the CDU/CSU’s joint candidate for chancellor in the next election, due in 2025. But the result was slightly worse than the last election in 2018, and was its worst result since 1950.

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