BFF-10 Merkel’s Bavarian allies face threat of poll debacle

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BFF-10

GERMANY-STATE-ELECTION-BAVARIA

Merkel’s Bavarian allies face threat of poll debacle

BERLIN, Oct 14, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s arch-
conservative Bavarian allies are bracing for heavy electoral losses in the
southern Alpine state Sunday that could trigger shockwaves in Berlin.

The Christian Social Union (CSU), who have almost single-handedly ruled
the wealthy beer-and-lederhosen state since the 1960s, are expected to lose
their absolute majority, polls say.

The other partner in Merkel’s fragile ‘grand coalition’, the Social
Democrats, are also set to do poorly while the far-right and anti-immigration
AfD look certain to enter the state assembly.

The biggest winners, however, may be the left-leaning Greens who have
doubled their poll ratings to around 18 percent since the last state
elections, which would make them the second strongest party.

Poll booths open at 0600 GMT for almost 10 million eligible voters, and
first projections are expected shortly after they close at 1600 GMT.

If the surveys prove correct, the Bavarian election will mark another step
in the demise of ‘big-tent’ mainstream parties and the fragmentation of the
political landscape, as seen in other western democracies.

For Merkel, now often labelled a lame duck leader in her fourth and final
term, it would further raise political pressure two weeks ahead of another
dangerous regional vote, in the central state of Hesse.

Parliamentary speaker Wolfgang Schaeuble, a veteran Merkel ally, has
conceded that the two state polls will “affect national politics and thus the
reputation of the chancellor”.

– Migrant influx –

The CSU, the state’s traditional sister party to Merkel’s CDU, has long
employed a folksy brand of beerhall politics to monopolise power in the state
known for its fairytale castles, Oktoberfest, corporate champions like
Siemens and BMW and the Bayern Munich football club.

It has preached economic stability and traditional conservative values in
the mainly Catholic state, promoting crucifixes in school classrooms and bans
on wearing Islamic veils in public.

As a consistent vote winner, the party from the best-in-class “free state”
of Bavaria has confidently co-governed in Berlin with Merkel’s CDU.

But the dynamic changed after mid-2015, when the region bordering Austria
suddenly became Germany’s frontline state for a mass influx of mostly Muslim
refugees and migrants fleeing war and poverty, half of them from Syria, Iraq
and Afghanistan.

After initial scenes of welcome, the influx sparked a xenophobic backlash
that drove the nationwide rise of the AfD, which in last year’s general
elections took millions of votes to weaken all mainstream parties.

The CSU has also attacked Merkel’s long liberal refugee with a ferocity
that has grown as the Bavaria election neared, in an increasingly desperate
attempt to recapture voters drifting to the AfD.

As the spat escalated, the CSU’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has
provoked rifts that drove her wobbly coalition to the brink of collapse.

Unusually, Merkel has been largely absent from the CSU election campaign,
which in its final rally on Friday invited instead Austria’s right-wing
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

– Greens on the rise –

A series of dramatic polls have signalled that the CSU’s hardline rhetoric
and brinkmanship have backfired badly, as its ratings have plummeted into the
low 30 percent range.

While the AfD has polled at or above 10 percent, the surprise stars have
been the Greens, a one-time hippie and peacenik collective that has poached
mainstream voters to suddenly mature into a mainstream political force. While
it unashamedly wants to save the planet, it has also vowed to address voters’
day-to-day concerns from child care to urban housing.

As the CSU looks to many voters like yesterday’s party, state premier
Markus Soeder has toned down his shrill rhetoric about “asylum tourists” and
blamed “Berlin politics” for the poor surveys, heightening speculation he is
setting up his long-time rival Seehofer as the fall guy.

Seehofer, 69, has meanwhile declared he intends to “complete my mission”
as interior minister, and presumably keep needling Merkel.

Ironically, one possible outcome of the Bavaria poll could be to force an
improbable alliance between the conservatives and the Greens, which could set
a precedent for future national governments.

BSS/AFP/MSY/0922 hrs