Cablegate: Local Election Preview / Sw Germany

Published: Wed 9 Jun 2004 02:59 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Local Election Preview / SW Germany
Sensitive but unclassified -- not for internet distribution.
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On June 13, three states in SW Germany --
Baden-Wuerttemberg (B-W), Rheinland-Pfalz (R-P) and Saarland
-- will hold local elections concurrently with EU-wide
European Parliament elections in an effort to increase voter
participation. Local elections will serve as a bellwether
for the overall political climate in southwestern Germany
and could have an immediate impact on the political future
of important figures including R-P Christian Democrat (CDU)
flag-bearer Christoph Boehr and B-W Minister President Erwin
Teufel (CDU). We expect strong support for conservatives in
all three states and continuing dissatisfaction with the
national government and Chancellor Schroeder's Agenda 2010
reforms. END SUMMARY.
2. (U) Saarland's June 13 local races will take place
during the run-up to its September 5 state elections. In
1999, the CDU's strong finish in local elections served to
foreshadow the end of the SPD's 15-year rule in Saarland
later that year. Popular Christian Democrat Minister-
President Peter Mueller continues to draw wide support and
is the odds-on favorite to retain his seat in the upcoming
contest. Although the SPD currently holds a majority in
Saarland's counties, three Social Democrats are up for re-
election or are retiring this year, and the balance could
change. Of particular interest is the upcoming election for
lord mayor of Saarbruecken, the second most powerful person
in Saarland. The contest will be wide open, as SPD
incumbent Hajo Hoffman is retiring this year.
3. (U) Recent opinion polling places the CDU 21 points
ahead of the SPD (54 to 33) in Saarland's state elections,
with the Greens at five percent and the FDP at three
percent. CDU caucus leader Peter Hans attributes four
percent of the CDU lead to a "brilliant Minister-President"
and another four to a "competitor that gets weaker by the
day." Former Saarland minister-president Oskar Lafontaine
has had little success in rallying the SPD base in support
of the party's lead candidate, Heiko Maas. Social Democrats
opine that the continued unpopularity of the national
government has undermined their "substantive criticism" of
Saarland's CDU administration. Among the smaller parties,
FDP state chairman Christoph Hartmann blamed his party's low
numbers on Mueller's strength and popularity, noting that
"people simply believe the CDU can do it alone." The Greens
hope to re-enter the Saar parliament on the back of the
SPD's unpopularity and are doubtful that the CDU will lose
its absolute majority.
4. (U) Recent polls indicate a comfortable lead for the B-W
Christian Democrats while the SPD continues to suffer from
general voter dissatisfaction with the national government.
In the 1999 local elections, the CDU emerged as the
strongest party with 34 percent of the vote state-wide,
edging out traditionally strong independent lists (which
together garnered 33.7 percent). Social Democrats seek to
maintain their 1999 level of support (19.8 percent) based on
charismatic SPD Bundestag member Ute Kumpf's challenge to
CDU incumbent Wolfgang Schuster in October elections for
lord mayor of Stuttgart (B-W's biggest city and home of
automotive concerns Daimler-Chrysler, Bosch, and Porsche).
Independent voter groups will continue to play a major role
on the local level.
5. (U) Susanne Eisenmann, CDU standard-bearer in Stuttgart,
confided that she believes the Christian Democrats will
prevail in local elections, but predicts they will have a
hard time making additional gains beyond those made in 1999.
Key contacts expect M-P Teufel to declare his political
intentions after the elections, and some speculate that
Teufel might seek another term if the CDU makes an excellent
6. (U) In the 1999 local elections, the CDU defended its
position as Rheinland-Pfalz's strongest party with a showing
of 46.1 percent, versus 36.1 percent for the SPD. Other
parties all polled single digits (independents 7.6 percent,
Greens 5.0 pct, FDP 4.1 pct). Recent polls indicate that
the CDU likely will repeat its strong 1999 performance. SPD
sources in Rheinland-Pfalz worry the party's weakness at the
national level may cause it to lose ground locally.
Although the CDU is framing local elections as a dry run for
Rheinland-Pfalz's 2006 state elections, observers currently
believe that Minister President Beck's personal popularity
could outweigh flagging support for the party and secure him
another term.
7. (SBU) Elections in Rheinland-Pfalz may become a
referendum not on M-P Beck, but on R-P CDU leader Christoph
Boehr. Although the CDU remains strong within Rheinland-
Pfalz, Boehr is often criticized within the party for poor
leadership and an aloofness that contrasts sharply with
Beck's "human touch." According to Ralf Glesius, party
manager of the Junge Union (the CDU's youth organization),
the CDU will visit the issue of "standard-bearer" after the
June elections. The CDU is unlikely to fare poorly, but if
they fail to break new ground against a weakened SPD,
Boehr's days as party leader could be numbered.
8. (SBU) Although all politics may be local, the continuing
unpopularity of the national government will likely be the
dominant factor in the upcoming June 13 elections.
Conservatives are likely to make strong showings in Baden-
Wuerttemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz local elections -- despite
leadership struggles within both state parties -- and the
SPD will be fortunate even to match its relatively weak 1999
showing. With a popular CDU minister-president and the
recent modest upturn in the Saar economy, Saarland's voters
seem to have little desire for change. Consequently, the
Saar CDU is likely to do very well in local contests and to
retain its absolute majority in upcoming state elections.
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