Germany’s Social Democrats have won a crucial regional election in the northern state of Lower Saxony, seen as a referendum on chancellor Olaf Scholz’s handling of the country’s energy crisis.
Projections on public broadcaster ZDF saw the centre-left SPD gaining 33.1 per cent, the conservative Christian Democrats 27.9 per cent — their worst result in the state since 1955 — the Green party garnering 14.1 per cent and the liberal FDP 5 per cent.
The projections suggest Lower Saxony’s SPD has two options — to continue its current “grand coalition” with the CDU or form a new alliance with the Greens, the political constellation that ran the state between 2013 and 2017.
The option of re-entering a coalition with the Greens may be preferable for the party, since it would mirror the make-up of Scholz’s federal government in Berlin, which includes the two parties along with the FDP.
“Our declared goal is that [the SPD and Greens] will govern together, if we get enough votes for a stable majority,” said Hubertus Heil, a senior SPD politician who is labour minister in the federal government.
He said the two parties “have the most in common”, the CDU had been “voted out of power, and there is a partner that wants to govern with us”. Voters in Sunday’s election had “tasked us with forming a new majority in Lower Saxony”.
Scholz, who has launched €295bn in emergency support for Germans struggling with higher energy bills, will be relieved by the result, which many are interpreting as a vote of confidence in his policies.
Stephan Weil, the state’s Social Democrat prime minister, singled out the €200bn “gas price brake” plan, unveiled by Scholz late last month to help bring down gas and electricity costs for companies and private households, as the most important of those policies.
The government, he told ZDF, was working under “extremely difficult conditions” but “had shown that it is actively supporting ordinary people and businesses.”
The SPD’s strong result was also widely ascribed to Weil’s own popularity. Sunday’s result was the third consecutive election victory for the Social Democrat, who has governed Lower Saxony since 2013 and is one of the SPD’s best-known and most widely-respected politicians.
It was a good night for the Greens, whose share of the vote increased by more than 5 percentage points on the state’s last election in 2017 — though polls in recent weeks suggested they would do even better.
The share of the vote for the far-right Alternative for Germany nearly doubled to 11.8 per cent, according to the ZDF projections.
Tino Chrupalla, the AfD’s leader, attributed its strong performance to the clarity of its messaging, with the party strongly criticising sanctions against Russia.
He said inflation was being driven by the “economic war” Germany had launched on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, which was “chiefly affecting [Germany’s] own population”.
“I don’t want my children to wake up tomorrow in world war three,” he said on ZDF. “We need a de-escalation and, in the end, peace negotiations with Russia.”
It was a bad night for the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), who garnered only 5 per cent — the threshold for entry into the regional parliament. “It’s a setback for the FDP, that is clear,” Christian Lindner, the FDP leader and finance minister, said.