Merkel Gets Bavarian Election Tailwind as FDP Concerns Grow

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gained a tailwind in her bid to win a third term as her Bavarian ally won a regional election, drubbing the opposition Social Democrats seven days before the national vote.

The Christian Social Union, the sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, took an absolute majority in yesterday’s ballot, allowing it to govern without a coalition partner in the state assembly in Munich.

“This is a good result for Merkel,” Jan Techau, director of the Brussels office of the Carnegie Endowment, said in a phone interview. “There’s no sign that the SPD and Greens are catching up. There’s no extra juice in their election race.”

The Bavarian result puts pressure on Merkel to maximize her own tally in the Sept. 22 election after her federal coalition partners, the Free Democrats, failed to reach the 5 percent threshold to enter the state parliament. Polls show the FDP struggling to reach that level nationally, meaning she may be forced into a grand coalition with the SPD and Peer Steinbrueck.

The FDP took 3.3 percent in Bavaria, down from 8 percent in the last election in 2008. Nationally, they’re polling between 5 percent and 6 percent, with a poll yesterday putting them on 4 percent.

Roesler’s Plea

FDP leader Philipp Roesler, the federal economy minister, toured television studios this morning urging voters to split their ballot to help his party and secure a Merkel government. German voters cast two ballots: one for an individual directly elected from the district, and the other for a political party, which determines whether it clears the 5 percent hurdle.

SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel said Bavarian voters had sent a signal to the Free Democrats by ejecting them from the state legislature, saying in remarks broadcast live on ARD television that it “hasn’t earned the right to be in the regional or the federal parliament.”

The CSU took 47.7 percent to 20.6 percent for the SPD, preliminary final results showed. The Greens took 8.6 percent; the Free Voters, who oppose euro-area bailouts, got 9 percent.

Merkel, who is touting her stewardship of Europe’s biggest economy during the debt crisis that sprang from Greece, entered the final week of campaigning as Germany’s benchmark DAX index rose to a record.

The chancellor is due to kick off a 150-hour town and city tour of Germany by her party’s youth wing today, then winds up her campaign on Sept. 21 in Berlin and in Stralsund, the main city in her electoral district on the Baltic Sea.

Steinbrueck’s Push

Steinbrueck focuses his final campaign push in the SPD-held states of Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Brandenburg, Hamburg and Berlin. His closing rally will be held in Frankfurt, the main city of Hesse state, which holds regional elections on Sept. 22.

Yesterday’s election result was a “bitter defeat” for the SPD, Hermann Groehe, general secretary of Merkel’s CDU in Berlin, said on ARD. “Not just in Bavaria but also for Steinbrueck and the party nationally,” he said.

Bavaria, Germany’s second-most populous state and home to companies such as BMW-maker Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and engineering giant Siemens AG, is a bellwether for the federal vote. At the same time, CSU leaders work at a distance from federal politics. The CDU doesn’t contest Bavarian ballots and the CSU only puts up candidates in its home state, their votes counting together in federal elections.

Merkel Basks

Merkel will “bask” in the result as an endorsement, Carsten Nickel, a London-based analyst with Teneo Intelligence, said by telephone. The drop in support for the Greens, which polled as high as 15 percent in Bavaria in July, “is worth noting as a possible sign of ebbed national support,” he said. Even so, “it’s obviously bad news for the FDP and a wake-up call for its core supporters to mobilize.”

CSU leader and Bavarian Prime Minister Horst 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 opposes the plan while indicating she may be open to discussing the CSU’s other main campaign goals, including a proposal for national referendums on key decisions affecting the European Union’s future.

Seehofer, who may now have greater leverage in any national coalition negotiations, said on ZDF television that his party “won’t give up” on the toll proposal. “We’ll implement it.”

Nationally, support for Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc dropped a percentage point to 39 percent in a weekly Emnid poll for yesterday’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper, while Steinbrueck’s SPD gained a point to 26 percent. The Greens lost a point to 10 percent and the anti-capitalist Left held at 9 percent. The FDP was unchanged at 5 percent. Emnid polled 1,840 voters on Sept. 5-11. No margin of error was given.

“Of course the FDP showing is pretty bad and this will worry her,” Carnegie’s Techau said. All the same, “the Bavarian result tells us that voters are not in a mood for change and this favors incumbents.”

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