Scholz’s Social Democrats win the Saarland after 22 years of conservative rule | International

The Social Democratic candidate in the Saarland elections, Anke Rehlinger, this Sunday in Saarbrucken.
The Social Democratic candidate in the Saarland elections, Anke Rehlinger, this Sunday in Saarbrucken.RONALD WITTEK (EFE)

The party of the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has scored a resounding victory in the elections of the small Saarland state, on the border with France, by obtaining 43.7% of the votes, according to projections by the ARD public television. The Social Democrats thus seize this land from almost a million inhabitants to the Christian Democrats, who have governed it for the last 22 years. The elections in the Saarland are the first since Scholz took charge of the Chancellery at the end of last year. The result is a boost to the management of the tripartite shortly after completing its first 100 days.

The SPD candidate, Anke Rehlinger, has achieved a resounding success by going from 29.7% in the previous elections, in 2017, to 43.7% that the estimates now give her – the final result after the recount may vary somewhat tenth—, so she will presumably become the first social-democratic president of the Saarland since 1994, back then with the charismatic Oskar Lafontaine at the helm. Pending the final count, the SPD would have an absolute majority that would allow it to govern alone.

The conservatives of the current president, Tobias Hans, have obtained 28.1%, a debacle for a party that in 2017 exceeded 40% of the votes and that led all the governments in the Saar uninterruptedly since 2000. In this last legislature formed a great coalition with the SPD, which has allowed the Social Democratic candidate to make herself known from her position as number two in the Executive.

Die Linke’s left has also sunk, losing more than 10 percentage points. With 2.5% of votes, the formation will not have representation in the regional Parliament. The collapse is attributed almost entirely to the abandonment of its strong man and founder, Oskar Lafontaine, who left the party amid criticism of its formation.

The elections in the Saar inaugurate the German electoral year, which will have three more appointments: in the small land border with Denmark of Schleswig-Holstein, on May 8; in North Rhine-Westphalia, the country’s most populous state, on May 15, and in Lower Saxony on October 9. The Saarland was also the first test for the new leader of the Christian Democrats, the right-wing Friedrich Merz, who was elected last January in a conservative turn that aims to break with Angela Merkel’s 16 years of centrism.

The result of the other formations that will have representation in the Saarbrücken Parliament places them very far from the two main parties. The Greens have obtained one more percentage point, in this decisive case because by exceeding 5% of the votes they manage to enter the hemicycle. The Liberals of the FDP are at the moment in the limit to obtain seats, with 4.9% of the votes. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) formation drops half a point compared to its 2017 result and obtains 5.7% of the vote.

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The outgoing prime minister has assured that the results are “bitter” and has assumed “all responsibility for the defeat” of his formation. “I will accept the consequences that arise”, he added on public television in the traditional round with the candidates. Hans had not won the previous elections for the CDU. He came to office after his predecessor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, was appointed minister in the last Executive of Angela Merkel, in 2018, and left the Saarland presidency.

The CDU governed in coalition with Rehlinger’s SPD, which had held the Economy portfolio since 2014 and had managed to forge a very good image among voters. Hans, on the other hand, was a weaker candidate who was also hurt by the resounding defeat of his party in the general elections in September last year. Peter Matuschek, a researcher at the Forsa demoscopic institute, believes that the candidates have been decisive in these elections, since the vote has been fundamentally regional. In a conversation with EL PAÍS prior to the elections, Matuschek anticipated the victory of the SPD and recalled that the Saarland is a “land small but interesting and peculiar” which is also the first election date of the year and a test for both Scholz and Merz.

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