Scholz’s Social Democrats want to secure victory in Lower Saxony

Germany’s Social Democrats have won a crucial state election in northern Lower Saxony, seen as a referendum on Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s handling of the country’s energy crisis.

Extrapolations by public broadcaster ZDF saw the centre-left SPD at 33.1 percent, the conservative Christian Democrats at 27.9 percent – their worst result in the country since 1955 – the Greens at 14.1 percent and the liberal FDP with 5 percent.

The projections suggest that Lower Saxony’s SPD has two choices – to continue its current “grand coalition” with the CDU, or to form a new alliance with the Greens, the political constellation that ruled the country between 2013 and 2017.

The option to rejoin a coalition with the Greens might be preferable for the party as it would reflect the composition of the Scholz federal government in Berlin, which includes the two parties along with the FDP.

“That is our declared goal [the SPD and Greens] will govern together if we get enough votes for a stable majority,” said Hubertus Heil, a senior SPD politician and labor minister in the federal government.

He said the two parties had “most things in common”, the CDU had “been voted out and there is a partner who wants to rule with us”. In the election on Sunday, the voters “commissioned us to form a new majority in Lower Saxony”.

Scholz, who has put up €295 billion in emergency aid for Germans struggling with higher energy bills, will be relieved at the result, which many interpret as a vote of confidence in his policies.

Stephan Weil, the state’s Social Democratic prime minister, called the €200 billion “gas price brake” plan that Scholz presented late last month to reduce gas and electricity costs for businesses and private households as the most important of these measures.

The government, he told ZDF, is working under “extremely difficult conditions” but has “shown that it actively supports citizens and companies”.

Green supporters in Hanover according to the first projections for Lower Saxony. The Greens’ share of the vote increased by more than 5 percentage points compared to 2017 © Leon Kuegeler/Reuters

The SPD’s strong result was also widely attributed to Weil’s own popularity. Sunday’s result was the third election victory in a row for the Social Democrats, who have governed Lower Saxony since 2013 and are one of the best-known and most respected politicians in the SPD.

It was a good night for the Greens, whose share of the vote rose more than 5 percentage points in the state’s last election in 2017 – although polls in recent weeks have suggested they would do even better.

According to ZDF projections, the right-wing extremist Alternative for Germany’s share of the vote has almost doubled to 11.8 percent.

AfD leader Tino Chrupalla attributed their strong performance to the clarity of their messages, with the party harshly criticizing sanctions against Russia.

He said inflation is being driven by the “economic war” Germany waged against Russia after invading Ukraine, which “mainly has repercussions [Germany’s] own population”.

“I don’t want my children to wake up tomorrow in World War III,” he said on ZDF. “We need de-escalation and, in the end, peace negotiations with Russia.”

It was a bad night for the Liberal Free Democrats (FDP), who got just 5 percent – the threshold for entering the state legislature. “This is a setback for the FDP, that’s clear,” said FDP leader and finance minister Christian Lindner. Scholz’s Social Democrats want to secure victory in Lower Saxony

Adam Bradshaw

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