Lower Saxony election: SPD triumphs, FDP trembles: now there could be trouble in the coalition

At the end of the first election year after the change of power in Berlin, Chancellor Olaf Scholz's SPD turned the corner once again.

Lower Saxony election: SPD triumphs, FDP trembles: now there could be trouble in the coalition

At the end of the first election year after the change of power in Berlin, Chancellor Olaf Scholz's SPD turned the corner once again. Your Prime Minister Stephan Weil emerges as the winner of the state elections in Lower Saxony and is not even dependent on the previous coalition partner CDU to form a government. According to the forecasts, it could be enough for a red-green coalition, but at least for a three-way alliance with the FDP - should it get into the state parliament.

For the SPD, a mixed election year ended more than forgivingly. It had started with a triumphant election victory in Saarland, where Anke Rehlinger won an absolute majority for the Social Democrats. Then followed two major disappointments in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia. In both countries, the official bonus took off, the CDU prime ministers were re-elected. That was bearable.

A defeat this Sunday would have been a disaster for the SPD. Lower Saxony is the only one of the five most populous federal states that is still governed by social democracy. A defeat there would have been blamed primarily on Chancellor Scholz and his bumpy efforts to cushion the drastically rising energy prices.

The election victory now gives Scholz a little more legroom for further crisis management. SPD General Secretary Kevin Kühnert spoke in an initial reaction of "tail wind" for the difficult tasks ahead. At the beginning of the week, the gas price commission presented its results, on the basis of which the federal government had to decide how exactly it wanted to design the "double boom" announced by Scholz to lower prices. The federal and state governments will then discuss financing the relief for citizens by mid-November at the latest.

Election winner Weil will probably continue to be the main negotiating partner for Scholz. At the beginning of October he took over the chairmanship of the Prime Ministers' Conference, which should now remain in the hands of the Social Democrats. That will also make it easier for Scholz to continue to manage the crisis.

The traffic light punishment hoped for by the CDU did not materialize. With one exception: the FDP emerged from the election as the only clear traffic light loser. Did not get into the state parliament in Saarland in March; kicked out of state government in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia in May; and now in Lower Saxony again a nail-biter along the five-percent hurdle. The coach question would be asked in football – but party leader Christian Lindner is firmly in the saddle with the Liberals. There is almost no public criticism of his course.

But: Lindner's weight in the traffic light, where he faces difficult financial policy months - keyword: defense of the debt brake - is not exactly strengthened by the FDP's loss of importance. This could lead to new profiling attempts and thus new trouble at traffic lights. The deputy party chairman Wolfgang Kubicki said in an initial reaction that the consequence of the election result must be that the FDP must "mark their positions more clearly" than before in the traffic lights.

The Greens were able to improve their result significantly, but it could have been better. In the polls they were now over 20 percent. Now they will end up well below that mark. That could also cause frustration. However, government participation beckons.

And the opposition? CDU leader Friedrich Merz really wanted success in Lower Saxony. He made a good dozen campaign appearances there in the last week before the election alone. No wonder, since it would have been the perfect ending to a largely successful year. The loss of the state chancellery in the small Saarland was quickly settled, the electoral successes in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia made up for it. But should it now come down to the opposition rather than the government bench in Hanover, as the first figures suggest, the annual balance sheet would be pretty mixed.

Merz can take credit for having stabilized the CDU nationwide within a year after the bankruptcy in the federal elections in September 2021. In the polls, it is again around ten percentage points ahead of the SPD - but still well under 30 percent. Which does not meet the demands of a large people's party and a Friedrich Merz. He should therefore push ahead with the renewal of the content of the CDU all the more vigorously in the coming months, which will largely be free of election campaigns. Work on the new basic program is ongoing.

The AfD has won again for the first time after three state elections with losses and, according to the forecasts from 6 p.m., even has a double-digit result. That should be grist to the mills of the protest movement that the right-wing party wants to set up this fall. There was a foretaste on Saturday in Berlin, when several thousand people demonstrated in front of the Reichstag building against the federal government's crisis policy, many of them with AfD flags.

For the Left, a disastrous election year ends in another disaster. As in the other three previous elections, it remains well below the five percent mark. The already existential crisis of the party is likely to exacerbate this a little further.

After Lower Saxony, there is now a good six-month break in the election campaign. And even then, only the elections in Bremen, the smallest federal state, are due in May. Such non-campaign phases are more beneficial to policy at the federal level. The election campaign will only really get going again with the votes in autumn 2023 in Bavaria and Hesse.