German state elections: Live

August 30, 2009

10 p.m. – So it’s a black eye for Merkel and her conservative party four weeks before the federal election with the likely loss of power in two of three states that went to the polls on Sunday. But will it make a difference for the federal election on Sept. 27? Will Steinmeier’s SPD, now in the driver’s seat to win state offices from the CDU for the first time since 2001, be able to take advantage of the momentum? Will the CDU start to get nervous again after squandering big leads in last month of the 2002 and 2005 federal elections? September could be an exciting month in Germany.


9:50 p.m.  Bild newspaper’s Nikolaus Blome writes in a column for Monday’s early editions: “It was an earthquake kicking off the hot phase of the national campaign…The CDU has been spoiled by its past success but now has it in writing that the Sept. 27 election is far from decided.”


9:10 p.m. – Here is a video clip of Steinmeier savouring the SPD’s likely move into power in two of the three states that voted on Sunday. It’s been a l-o-n-g time since anyone in Germany has seen the SPD celebrating. Merkel kept a low profile on Sunday evening. No one saw or heard from her.


8:10 p.m. – Here’s another way to tell the winners from the losers. Peter Mueller (on the left), who will likely lose his job as state premier of Saarland, was asked in an ARD TV interview just now what his party leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, might have told him to try to cheer him up in the two hours since the disappointing results for the CDU were published. “She hasn’t called me,” Mueller said, sounding lonely in his defeat. His SPD rival Heiko Maas (right) was then asked if SPD chancellor candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier had been in touch: “Yes, he and (SPD chairman Franz) Muentefering both called and said they were delighted and said it’s a great signal for the federal election.”


8:00 p.m. – German ARD’s flagship network newscast at 8 p.m. leads off with anchorwoman Ellen Arnold saying: “In two of three state elections on Sunday there was a considerable shift in the balance of power. A change in government from conservatives to a coalition of the SPD and Left party is possible in Saarland and Thuringia. In contrast to that a CDU-FDP government is possible in Saxony.” The ARD Tagesschau is the most-watched news show in Germany with 6 to 10 million viewers


7:45 p.m. – Here’s the latest Reuters story on the election


7:30 p.m. – The dust is starting to settle. I asked Noah Barkin, who has been writing the Reuters stories on this election all weekend, what Sunday’s results mean for next month’s federal election: “Merkel has looked untouchable for months and she still seems on track to win a second term next month. But this gives her Social Democrat opponents a glimmer of hope. It will be tough, but if they can build on this result and raise concerns in the CDU camp over the final weeks of the campaign, the experts we’ve been talking to believe a momentum shift is possible. Merkel needs to hold her lead to get the centre-right coalition with the Free Democrats that she failed to secure four years ago. The questions about whether she can do that have probably risen after these votes.”


6:45 p.m. – It didn’t take long for Steinmeier to pop up at an ebullient SPD party headquarters in Berlin to claim victory. He says: “This is a good election for the SPD. The CDU suffered dramatic losses. One thing is clear now: Germany does not want a CDU-FDP coalition.” Steinmeier said the elections were a signal for the federal election: “I’ve been reading that some people think the federal election has already been decided. This election today show how wrong they are. The same thing happened in 2002 and 2005 — the CDU and FDP started divvying up the government jobs in the summer before the election but the result ended up being a lot different than they expected. And I promise you that will be the same again in 2009.”


6:40 p.m. – Here’s the updated report from my colleague Noah Barkin


6:30 p.m. – Ronald Pofalla, Merkel’s right-hand man in the CDU, steps up to the podium at CDU party headquarters in Berlin. Predictably, he tries to put a positive spin on the probable loss of two states. But he doesn’t look like a very happy man when he says: “There are bright spots on the one side but some shadows on the other,” Pofalla says. “The CDU is the strongest party in all three states and the SPD is beaten, far behind us. We’re the only major party left in Germany.”



6:20 p.m. – The CDU are licking their wounds and the SPD are celebrating. It’s a bit of a curious sight, considering the SPD is so far behind the CDU in both Saarland and Thuringia. But because the SPD will likely be able to form coalitions with the Left and Greens in those two states, the centre-left party feels like the big winner. It is the first time since 2001 that the SPD won control of a state government away from the CDU.


6:08 p.m. Merkel’s conservatives suffered losses in regional elections, exit polls showed. It is a disappointment for her Christian Democrats one month before she seeks re-election in a federal vote. In Saarland, on the French border, and in Thuringia, in the ex-communist east, CDU leaders who have ruled for a decade saw their support slump to 34.5 percent and 32.5 percent, respectively, and could be unseated by leftist coalitions. In a third regional vote in the eastern state of Saxony, Merkel’s party looked poised to retain power, as expected. 


6:02 p.m. – Merkel’s Christian Democrats suffer heavy losses in two states, Saarland and Thuringia and could lose power in those two states — according to German TV exit polls.


5:45 p.m. – There are about 20 Reuters journalists working in the Berlin newsroom and in three state capitals this evening on this story. They’re going to try to bring the story, the pictures and the TV images to subscribers in Germany and around the world as quickly as possible at 6 p.m. Who will be the big winner? The big loser? What will it all mean for the federal election next month?


5:30 p.m. – Just 30 minutes until the polls close. Tension is rising in Berlin as journalists around town scramble to try to get an early glimpse at the exit poll data the networks will be airing shortly. There are some reports of twitter results making the rounds as well but they seem a bit dodgy.

3:30 p.m. – More than 6 million people are eligible to vote in the three state elections today. Voter turnout is running higher in Saarland than in the two eastern states, according to Saarbruecker Zeitung online (in German). A total of 36.7 percent of eligible voters in Saarland had cast their ballots by 2 p.m. — up from 28 percent in the last state election five years ago. In Thuringia, where a close battle is also expected, voter turnout was at 34.9 percent at 2 p.m according to local media reports, up from 29.5 percent at 2 p.m. five years ago. In Saxony, where the CDU is expected to win easily, voter turnout was below 2004 levels: 27.6 percent by 2 p.m. compared to 33.4 percent. 


2:30 p.m. – All the leading candidates in the three states have cast their ballots. None had anything especially interesting to say to reporters waiting for their comments. Saarland’s CDU state premier Peter Mueller was on his way back to his car after voting when he was asked what was at stake: “That the election comes to a reasonable conclusion.” His opponent, Heiko Maas of the SPD, was more talkative but said just as little: “We’ve done everything we could,” he said. Thuringia’s CDU state premier Dieter Althaus, who has been fighting hard to keep his job, was asked what he was hoping for today: “For a high voter turnout.” His chief rival, Left party challenger Bodo Ramelow, was asked the same thing and said: “I’m hoping we’ll get more than 26.1 percent we got last time.” 


11:15 a.m. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the SPD candidate running against Merkel in next month’s election, is quoted in Bild am Sonntag newspaper this morning saying he hopes the CDU chancellor will have to start campaigning in earnest after today’s three state elections. She has run a cautious campaign and largely stayed above the fray so far — perhaps understandable with her CDU/CSU conservative bloc holding a 12-15 point lead in opinion polls over the SPD. Aside from the predictable messages from Steinmeier like there is nothing wrong with a SPD-Left coalition in western states anymore and he’s confident the SPD will once again catch up to the CDU/CSU as in the home stretch of the last two federal elections in 2002 and 2005, the Vice Chancellor has one interesting admission in the Q+A with a group of newspaper readers: He does not actually sit down with his laptop in the evenings to write his blogs himself. Instead, Steinmeier revealed, he sometimes calls them through on the telephone. “To be honest, I only rarely get to do that myself. Most of the blogs I’ll call through in the car after the last rally,” Steinmeier told Bild am Sonntag readers.
8 a.m. – The polls in three German states holding elections today just opened — exactly four weeks before the federal election. It’s a lovely late summer day across the country and the turnout will likely be high. The three states are an important test for Chancellor Angela Merkel, as my colleague Noah Barkin wrote in this report earlier this morning. The three states have all long been ruled by Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrats. But in two states, Saarland in the west and Thuringia in the east, the Social Democrats could take power in a new leftist alliance with the Left party and Greens. The Left, which traces its roots to the Communist East German party that built the Berlin Wall, has been ostracised in the west — until now. That could all change after today. We’ll be updating this post throughout the day. The polling stations close at 6 p.m. and the first exit polls willbe instantly flashed by the German public TV networks — and we’ll keep you posted with live updates here. The exit polls in Germany are often quite accurate and within about 30 minutes we’ll pass along the networks’ even more precise projections.

PHOTOS – From top to bottom: CDU Saarland state premier talks to SPD rival Heiko Maas. SPD Chancellor candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier celebrates SPD election results on Sunday.  Chancellor Angela Merkel reacts during a discussion in Hamburg on Sunday: Steinmeier, on campaign trail in Saarland last week; Below: Merkel and Peter Mueller, Saarland state prime minister, attend an election campaign rally in Saarland last week. REUTERS/Thomas Peters, Christian Charius, Johannes Eisele (3)










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