This past 1st of September, the German states of Saxony and Brandenburg elected their new legislature for the next five years. The entire country and many observers abroad set eyes on Saxony’s elections (no disrespect to our Brandenburg neighbors). The importance of who would be the 120 congresspeople representing the state in Dresden was simple: Saxony was the state where the far-right AfD had a real shot at finishing first place, as they did in the EU parliamentary elections this past May.
At 18:00 on September 1st, we learned the first official projections, which gave us one huge relief: the AfD trailed the incumbent CDU by more than four percentage points in Saxony.
Disaster averted. The far-right, anti-immigrant and climate-change-denying AfD was not the number one political force at the state-level in Saxony. However, with 27.5 percent of total votes in the state, the AfD gained more support from Saxon voters than all left-of-center political parties.
It is very likely that many voters made the last-minute decision to vote for the conservative CDU instead of another party like the Greens or the business-friendly FDP. The Greens had double-digit support in the polls running up to the elections, which suggests that many of their supporters made the tactical decision of voting conservative to prevent the AfD from becoming the state’s main political force.
Saxony’s incumbent Prime Minister, Michael Kretschmer (CDU), will likely keep his job. Nonetheless, Kretschmer now has a clear mandate to form a government that does not involve the AfD. He faces two possibilities: either form a minority government, which is not very appealing since his party only got 32 percent of the vote; or form a coalition with the SPD and the Greens.
The “Kenya coalition,” named after the colors of the three parties – black (CDU), red (SPD), and green (Greens) – is the only possible coalition that circumvents the need to join forces with the AfD, whose members will control about a quarter of all seats.
A “Kenya coalition” will be hard to swallow for the CDU leadership in Saxony, since the Greens, as junior coalition partners, will likely compromise in many areas except two: migration and the shift to a more climate-friendly economy.
These issues may not sound so daunting at first. Nevertheless, the CDU would need to take on a greater hard-line policy on migration to regain the trust of AfD voters. Plus, climate-friendly policies often hurt business interests such as those of the coal industry. These tensions between the Greens and the CDU put into question the viability of a “Kenya coalition,” which most hope will last for the next five years.
The CDU and the Greens were the main forces in Leipzig in the party-level vote (Listenstimmen).
Sixty-five percent of the more than 450,000 eligible voters in Leipzig hit the ballots in these Saxon elections. Nabbing the most votes was the CDU, with 25.4 percent, while the Greens ranked second, with 18.1 percent.
The far-right AfD came in at a close third, with 17.3 percent. At the party level, they were trailed by both Die Linke with 15.9 percent and the SPD with 9.9 percent.
Notable electoral changes in comparison to the previous elections for Leipzig were that the Greens won two direct (candidate-level) mandates, meaning that they won two first-past-the-post electoral circuits. These were Leipzig Northwest, won by Dr. Claudia Maicher; and Leipzig Zentrum, won by Christin Melcher. In other circuits, incumbents were able to keep their posts, such as Juliane Nagel (Die Linke) in Leipzig South and Holger Gasse (CDU) in Leipzig Northeast.
The bottom line
The voting behavior of Leipzig’s residents likely show a lot of tactical voting, since support for the CDU increased substantially in comparison to the city council and EU Parliament elections this past May. Voters in Leipzig will certainly keep their eye on Dresden, to make sure that Prime Minister Kretschmer keeps his word of not forming a coalition government with the AfD.
It may have seemed that we dodged a bullet – but although not enough to unseat the mainstream parties, the AfD’s gains should not be underestimated.