German voters deliver mixed verdict on Scholz coalition in regional poll

  • Official results show Scholz’s SPD wins vote in Lower Saxony
  • But the poor performance of the FDP could destabilize its coalition
  • Far-right surges amid frustrations over cost of living crisis

BERLIN, Oct 9 (Reuters) – Regional elections in Lower Saxony on Sunday offered mixed fortunes to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s ruling national coalition.

While the result signaled support for Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD), some pundits said a beating from his federal coalition partner risked destabilizing Scholz’s administration at a critical time as Berlin strives to to avoid energy shortages and a further escalation of the war in Ukraine.

The other clear winner in Lower Saxony has been the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), reflecting a wider rise in support for the party across the country amid frustrations over the crisis in the cost of life in Europe’s largest economy.

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Overall, seen as an indicator of the national mood, the local elections sent a mixed message about Scholz’s three-party “traffic light” federal coalition, made up of the SPD, Greens and Free Democrats (FDP). .

The FDP, a pro-business party that has never been a natural ideological match with the SPD and the centre-left Greens, called the Lower Saxony result a “coup” and blamed, in part, the participation of his party in the national administration.

“Many of our supporters feel alienated by this coalition,” said FDP leader and German Finance Minister Christian Lindner.

Philipp Koeker, a political scientist at the University of Hanover, the capital of Lower Saxony, said the result had the potential to destabilize Scholz’s coalition at the federal level.

“The FDP will now be considerably less likely to support policies that do not fit its program,” he said. “It could even lead coalition partners to seek support from opposition parties.”

Preliminary official results showed the SPD winning 33.4% of the vote in Lower Saxony, an economically powerful swing state of 8 million people, home to carmaker Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), despite having down 3.5 percentage points from the last state election. in 2017.

The business-friendly FDP won just 4.7%, missing the 5% threshold to enter the state parliament, while the AfD was on track to nearly double its vote share at 10.9%.

Analysts said the SPD has benefited from the popularity of its incumbent Lower Saxony premier Stephan Weil, who won his third term in a row and is seen as a steady hand in uncertain times.

Support for the party, which lost the previous two regional votes in Germany this year, fell to 18-20% nationally after securing 25.7% in the 2021 federal election.

State governments can influence national policy in the upper house of the national parliament. They also have jurisdiction over important sectors such as local policing and education, giving the federal nature of Germany.

In Lower Saxony, the SPD is well ahead of former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Conservatives who are in second place with 28.1%, down 5.5 percentage points.

The ZDF exit poll puts the Greens, whose ministers are currently Germany’s most popular politicians, at 14.5%, 5.8 percentage points higher than in 2017.

This could allow the SPD to potentially break with the Conservatives, with whom it led a grand coalition in Lower Saxony, and link up with the Greens instead.

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Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by David Holmes, Pravin Char and Diane Craft

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