Sunday 28 September 2008

Political earthquake in Bavaria; uncertainty in Austria

50 years of conservative dominance of Bavarian politics are over following state elections in which the Christian Social Union (CSU) won 43 per cent of the vote, fully 17 points down on its 60% share in the 2003 elections.

It is difficult to imagine a greater shock result in European politics. The CSU's dominance far outstrips that of Labour in Scotland, for example. But the party has struggled to modernise its appeal or to emerge from the shadow of its strongman leader Edmund Stoiber, who dominated the state's politics for fifteen years before resigning amidst a political scandal last year.

This was not a great result for the Social Democrats, who polled 19 per cent. A coalition between the CSU and the pro-market liberals of the FDP seems the most likely outcome.

But the Bavarian result could considerably shift the prospects for the national election. Angela Merkel has had a difficult relationship with the autonomous sister party of the Christian Democrats, but the centre-right has been much boosted by the contribution of the Bavarian bloc to their national share. The Christian Democrats have been confident that Angela Merkel's popularity would make them the leading party at the next election - and perhaps polling 40% - but this result may see a rethink.


In Austria, the Social Democrats have come top of the poll, defeating the centre-right partners with whom they governed in a fractious grand coalition. Both coalition partners have lost support - but the Social Democrats lead on 29.7% (down 5.6%) because the People's Party have dropped further by 8.7 points to 25.6%.

But most attention will go to the improved performance of the two right-wing populist parties, the infamous Jorg Haider's BZÖ and the Freedom Party from which he split. Together they have 29%, outpolling the main centre-right party.

Another Grand Coalition seems the most plausible outcome - the two far right parties detest each other, and so the question of whether a controversial deal with the more centre-right People's Party is possible is unlikely to arise.

There is a detailed discussion and analysis on - including on whether it makes sense to regard the two right-wing populist parties as 'far right' or not.

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