Sunday, January 27, 2008

The best election story this weekend

Today's exciting election comes not from South Carolina, but from Germany.

Roland Koch is the governor of Hessen in central Germany. He is a right-wing Christian Democrat who has been campaigning for re-election on the themes of crime and immigration, calling for the deportation of foreign criminals. In the past, his other campaigns include opposition to dual citizenships for people who were born in Turkey and work in Germany, and the need to ban burkhas in schools (no one in Hessen has actually seen anyone wearing a burkha, but, y'know, just in case). He is one of the top Christian Democrats in the national party.

He is being challenged by Andrea Ypsilanti, a left-wing Social Democrat, whose main campaign themes are education reform, a minimum wage, and increasing renewable energy. In response to Koch's attempts to link crime and immigration, the SPD hit back, pointing out that he had cut the numbers of police and that he had been silent about racist attacks by members of far right groups. (Koch, in turn, has been making great play in his campaign literature of the fact that Ypsilanti and the leader of the local Greens both have foreign names).

Elections were held today, and have seen a 10% swing from CDU to SPD. In 2003 Koch won 49% of the vote, today's exit polls suggest that the SPD and Greens will get about 45%, the same as the CDU and FDP (liberals). As recently as a month ago, the CDU were 16% ahead of the SPD in the opinion polls.

The spanner in the works is that the German Left Party (an alliance of the old East German communists and West German lefties) are on the verge of securing the 5% that they need to be represented in the state parliament. They won't join in a coalition with the SPD and the Greens, so either there will have to be a coalition between Christian Democrats and Social Democrats or new elections (the liberal party is mainly interested in reducing regulation, privatisation and cutting taxes, and has already ruled out working with the local Social Democrats). If, say, 1 in 5 of the people who voted for the Left Party had instead voted SPD or Green, then Ypsilanti would definitely have a majority, and the state would be run by someone whose priorities were education, the environment, and higher wages for low-paid workers, rather than stirring up hatred against foreigners.

Lots of lessons for lefties in Germany from all of this, but also things for us in Britain to think about as well. There's probably more to learn from Andrea Ypsilanti than from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama combined.

More coverage here (latest polls) and here (background analysis).

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