German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bid for re-election on Sept. 22 may get a lift from Sunday’s Bavarian state vote, with polls showing her Christian Social Union sister party poised to regain an absolute majority.
Led by Prime Minister Horst Seehofer, the CSU has rebounded in the state since 2008 when its worst result in more than 50 years forced the party into a coalition with the Free Democrats. Merkel is due to hold a rally on Sept. 20 in the state capital Munich that will be her eighth speech in Bavaria since July, underlining the region’s importance to her bid for a third term.
Bavaria, the biggest of Germany’s 16 states by territory and the second largest by population, with 12.4 million people, is a bellwether for the federal vote seven days later. A CSU majority would validate Merkel’s stewardship of Europe’s biggest economy and her leadership during the euro-area crisis, lending her momentum against her main challenger, Peer Steinbrueck.
“Merkel is scrutinizing the Bavarian vote for something to give a meaningful push to the last week of her campaign,” Peter Matuschek, chief political analyst of polling company Forsa GmbH in Berlin, said in a telephone interview. “A marked improvement of the CSU’s score will be held up as a triumph by Merkel.”
The CSU is polling 47 percent in Bavaria, according to an Emnid survey for N24 television yesterday. The opposition Social Democrats, Merkel’s main rivals at the national level, are at 18 percent, while their Green party allies had 12 percent. The Free Democrats had 4 percent. Emnid polled about 1,000 voters on Sept. 11. No margin of error was given.
Nationally, support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the CSU is a combined 39-41 percent, according to the seven leading polling companies. The SPD under Steinbrueck is at 25-28 percent. The Greens are at 9-12.5 percent, while the Free Democrats, Merkel’s current coalition partner with whom she wants to ally again after Sept. 22, is at 4-6 percent.
The election ambitions of Merkel and Seehofer are aided by Bavaria’s economic performance. Home to BMW-maker Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, engineering giant Siemens AG and insurer Allianz SE, the state’s gross domestic product last year was about $619 billion, bigger than the output of Poland or Austria.
Munich-based BMW’s share price is 131 percent higher now than on Sept. 27, 2009, the last federal election date, compared with a 49 percent rise in the benchmark DAX Index.
“What really makes me happy is that we have eliminated youth unemployment,” Seehofer said in remarks carried by N-TV yesterday. Bavaria’s unemployment rate is 3.8 percent compared with 6.8 percent nationally in Germany.
The CSU was founded as a separate Christian Democratic movement in Bavaria after the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. Merkel’s CDU was also founded in 1945 in the rest of what became West Germany under Konrad Adenauer, who became West Germany’s first postwar chancellor in 1949.
The CDU doesn’t contest Bavarian ballots while the CSU only puts up candidates in its home state, their votes counting together in federal elections. The CSU has three of the 16 posts in Merkel’s cabinet: currently transport, agriculture and interior affairs.
For all the CSU’s popularity in Bavaria, the last four polls are divided on whether the Free Democrats will reach the 5 percent threshold to win parliamentary seats in the state assembly in Munich. That too could have national ramifications, since just as a strong CSU stands to help Merkel, so a weak FDP might upset her plans for a repeat of her current coalition.
Bavaria, legally called the “Free State of Bavaria,” has always considered itself a place apart from the rest of Germany. “Mia san mia,” is a favorite saying of regional patriots that translates literally as “we are who we are,” though is more usually taken to mean “don’t mess with Bavaria.”
Seehofer hasn’t shied away from conflict with Merkel in pressing his party’s proposal for an autobahn car toll to help pay for German highway repairs. Merkel has remained firm in opposing the plan while indicating that she’s open to discussing the CSU’s two other main campaign goals: the introduction of regional rates of inheritance tax and national referendums on key decisions affecting the European Union’s future.
Voting in Bavaria begins at 8 a.m. local time on Sept. 15 and polls close at 6 p.m., when exit polls will be broadcast on German television. Results based on partially counted ballots will be released from about 6:15 p.m. and preliminary final results are published about 11 p.m.
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