Election test for Scholz in fears of inflation in Germany

Election test for Scholz in fears of inflation in Germany

Voters in Lower Saxony began voting for their state parliament on Sunday, a test run for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats in a Germany plagued by inflation and the energy crisis.

The 6.1 million voters in this region in the north-west of the country have to renew their parliament, which has so far been dominated by a coalition of Social Democrats (SPD, centre-left) and CDU (conservatives).

Polling stations must remain open until 18:00 (16:00 GMT).

At the end of an election campaign overwhelmed by energy issues, the SPD is slightly ahead in the final polls (between 31 and 33%) ahead of the CDU (28%).

If it comes first, the SPD can hope to form a coalition with the ecologists, who are in third place with 16 percent, and finish off the current conservative team.

– “To ponder” –

For Chancellor Scholz, whose popularity is at half-mast and whose supposed shyness in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been criticized from all sides, a possible first place after various election setbacks before the summer in other federal states would be cause for hope.

After two terms in office, Angela Merkel’s successor can count on the popularity of the country’s current prime minister, the experienced Stefan Weil.

However, the latter admitted that this campaign was “the most difficult” of his career. “I have never seen so many question marks and concerns on the faces of citizens,” he recently confided.

Rising energy prices pushed inflation to 10% in September, the highest in Germany in 70 years. In addition to falling purchasing power and a recession announced for next year, the leading European economy fears that its industrial structure will collapse.

According to a recent Ipsos survey, the rise in energy prices in Germany is the first reason for concern for almost every second respondent (49%), compared to just 12% a year ago.

In Lower Saxony, where most of the country’s wind turbines are located, but also the car giant Volkswagen, Mr. Weil wants to promote the switch to green energy.

The CDU, led by the current State Finance Minister Bernd Althusmann, is trying to stir up displeasure with the policy led by Mr. Scholz, despite the 200 billion euros that have been put on the table to cushion the rise in oil prices.

For the Christian Democrats, this regional election must serve as a sanctions vote against the coalition of social democrats, ecologists and liberals at the top of the country.

“The election campaign was all about the energy issue. In this context, the election serves as a “life-size survey” for the Scholz government,” political scientist Ursula Münch told AFP.

Other issues such as the shortage of teachers and medical staff or the diversification of agriculture were hardly addressed.

– The far right in ambush –

A major difference between the candidates concerns the Emsland nuclear power plant located in the country, one of the three still in operation in Germany.

Conservatives are fighting the government’s decision to shut it down at the end of the year, while the other two power plants benefited from a respite amid Russia’s gas shortages, which Germany was particularly dependent on.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz, who has come under fire after recent statements against alleged “social tourism” for Ukrainian refugees, is counting on the victory of this announced closure.

“The decision of the voters in Lower Saxony is a referendum on the continuation of the operation of the Emsland nuclear power plant”, which in his opinion is essential “so that 10 million stoves can continue to be supplied in complete safety”.

In this troubling context, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which gathered several thousand supporters at a demonstration against price hikes on Saturday in Berlin, could do well.

He is credited with around 11% in the polls, almost twice as much as in 2017 (6%).

A good result for the AfD, but undermined by divisions, would “express a protest vote that until a few months ago was thought to only concern the East German states,” notes Ms. Munch.

Reference: www.guadeloupe.franceantilles.fr

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