Far-right, conservatives gain in German votes in blow to Scholz

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BERLIN – Voters dealt the parties of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s fractious centre-left coalition a sharp rebuke in the key states of Bavaria and Hesse on Sunday, with economic woes and migration fears boosting the opposition conservatives and the far right.

The elections saw the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party burst out of its post-industrial eastern strongholds to score its best result in a western state, in Hesse, and come in second place in both states.

All three parties in Mr Scholz’s federal coalition – his Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) – did worse than five years ago in the states that together account for around a quarter of the German population.

The FDP looked on track to fail to reach the 5 per cent threshold to enter Parliament in Bavaria, and possibly Hesse too.

Analysts said this would further stoke tensions in a coalition that has struggled to find common ground, with Mr Scholz accused of failing to show the leadership needed to impose order and tackle crises, from the war in Ukraine to the green transition.

“If necessary the FDP needs to be ready to leave” the coalition, Mr Thomas Kemmerich, head of the FDP in the eastern state of Thueringen that is to hold its own election in 2024, was quoted as saying by German media outlet The Pioneer. “This cannot be a taboo.”

Mr Jens Spahn, a senior legislator for the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), said that rarely had a government been given such a comprehensive slapdown.

“And rarely has it been so clear: whether on migration, the economy or climate policy, people want a different politics,” Mr Spahn said.

In Hesse, home to the glittering towers of financial capital Frankfurt, the CDU was forecast to get 34.6 per cent of the vote for the state legislature, likely allowing them to govern for another term, projections for ARD state broadcaster at around 10pm local time showed.

The SPD’s 15.1 per cent – down 4.7 per cent on its 2018 results – was a personal blow to Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, whose campaign to head the state was dogged by criticism of her handling of a surge in irregular migration.

The failure of the far-left Left party to reach the 5 per cent threshold necessary to remain in the state Parliament in Hesse added to the broader shift to the right.

Meanwhile, the CDU’s sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), which has run Bavaria since 1957, was projected to win 36.4 per cent of the vote in that state – its worst result since 1950, although only a fraction below 2018’s.

This would likely weaken the potential claim of CSU leader Markus Soeder to the chancellor candidacy for the conservatives ahead of the 2025 federal election, analysts said.

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