Hesse election: Triumph for Rhine and AfD – defeat for SPD

As of: October 9th, 2023 3:29 a.m

The old election winner in Hesse is called the CDU, the new AfD. According to the preliminary election results, the Christian Democrats will clearly be the strongest force. The AfD comes in second – leaving an ailing SPD and disappointed Greens behind.

Around a year and a half ago, Boris Rhein took over as Hesse’s Prime Minister – in the middle of the legislative period, as the successor to Volker Bouffier. And he can count the first state election, in which he ran as current and, if possible, future head of government for his CDU, as a complete success.

According to the preliminary election results, the Hessian Christian Democrats were clearly the strongest force with 34.6 percent of all votes. Compared to the last election in 2018, they recorded an increase of 7.6 – at that time the CDU landed at 27.0 percent.

But even before the ballot there had been indications that Rhine could look forward to a largely safe election victory. And this despite a rather weak official bonus and moderate popularity ratings compared to other countries. In the election campaign, he and the Hesse CDU benefited from the massive dissatisfaction with the traffic light parties that support the federal government. Rhine also benefited from the weakness of the other top candidates and the lack of mood for change in the country.

Rhein now sees a “clear government mandate” for himself and his party. “They chose the Hesse CDU, but they also chose style and stability as well as gentle renewal,” he emphasized on election evening.

AfD overtakes SPD and Greens

But despite strong vote gains, the CDU does not have enough seats in the Hessian state parliament for a solo government. There are now several alliance variants available – such as a duet with the SPD or a continuation of the black-green coalition.

But both the previous junior partner and the SPD have clearly fallen in favor with voters. While both ranked second with the same result in 2018, they have now been overtaken by the AfD. It was able to increase by 5.3 percentage points and, with 18.4 percent, is not only the new second strongest party in Hesse – it also achieved its strongest election result to date in a western German state. For comparison: five years ago the party received 13.1 percent of the vote.

The AfD not only benefits from the massive dissatisfaction with the traffic light parties, it also benefits from the topic situation. According to pre-election surveys, many people support a restrictive immigration policy and fear more crime and economic decline. The AfD is apparently believed to have a certain problem-solving ability here.

Negative record for SPD

The defeated Greens and Social Democrats only had the race for third place left on election evening. With 15.1 percent, the SPD won by a narrow margin. For the party, however, this means a negative record in Hesse. With their disastrous performance, the Social Democrats under top candidate Nancy Faeser even undercut their worst result to date from 2018, when they landed at 19.8 percent

With Faeser as the top candidate, the party had relied on federal political prominence in order to finally govern again in the former “red Hesse” after 25 years in the opposition. But the SPD was unable to score points in the election campaign with its nationally known top candidate – on the contrary: Faeser’s ministerial post in Berlin turned out to be a heavy burden, especially when the issue of migration also increasingly played a role in the state election campaign. The Federal Minister of the Interior no longer came off the defensive.

The Greens slip to fourth place

There is also bitter disappointment among the Greens. Even though top candidate Tarek Al-Wazir repeatedly emphasizes that his party achieved its second-best result in the state.

But his party actually ran to take over the state government. But from the record of 19.8 percent five years ago, the Greens fell by 5.0 percentage points to just 14.8 percent off. Now the Greens hope to retain the government role alongside the CDU – as a clearly struggling junior partner.

During the election campaign, the Greens struggled with the fact that federal political issues such as refugee policy, the economy and the climate overshadowed this state election as well as those in Bavaria. A problem for all traffic light parties that ran in Hesse and Bavaria, as Al-Wazir emphasized: “All parties involved in the federal government” would have had to “fight uphill.”

FDP only manages to re-enter the state parliament by a tiny margin

The election evening was a real thriller for the FDP. At the beginning it seemed as if the Liberals would have to say goodbye to the Wiesbaden state parliament after four decades. But in the end, the re-entry was almost a matter of knife – with 5.0 percent of the vote. Five years ago, the FDP entered the state parliament with a much safer 7.5 percent.

The Left Party, on the other hand, missed re-entry into the state parliament. According to the preliminary official election results, it only has 3.1 percent, after 6.3 percent in 2018. This means that the party is only represented in two West German parliaments: in Bremen and Hamburg.

The Free Voters also failed to get into the state parliament with 3.5 percent.

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