Voters in Germany’s second-largest city were deciding Sunday whether Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives will hold onto their majority in Hamburg’s state parliament.
The city-state’s election will also help indicate how much momentum there is behind Gemany’s new Left party, a fusion of former East German communists and western left-wingers angered by economic reforms. The party is looking to win its first seats in Hamburg.
Four years ago, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, under popular Mayor Ole von Beust, won 47.2 per cent of the vote and a majority, helped by the unpopularity of Germany’s then centre-left government.
Polls suggest that it is unlikely to repeat that performance - and that voters could give neither centre-left nor centre-right coalitions a majority, complicating efforts to form a new state government.
The centre-left Social Democrats, or SPD – Merkel’s partner in an often fractious national ‘grand coalition’ - hope to regain power in a city-state they once dominated in a coalition with the Greens.
However, polls suggest that The Left can expect to top the 5 per cent of the vote needed to win seats for the first time. That would underline the party’s growing strength in western Germany, where it already entered three state parliaments.
Von Beust’s SPD challenger, Michael Naumann, has said he will not work with The Left. The mayor, meanwhile, has shown interest in a CDU-Green coalition, never before tried at state level, which could help expand Merkel’s options after next year’s federal election.
Last month, the CDU and SPD fought each other to a stalemate in another western state, Hesse. It remains unclear who will run the state after neither won a majority to govern with its traditional partner.
The CDU attacked the SPD before the Hamburg vote over reports that its candidate in Hesse may try to form a minority government and then win election as governor by accepting votes from The Left’s lawmakers.
“Those who set out to make common cause with The Left must get what they deserve,” in Sunday’s election, CDU general secretary Ronald Pofalla said.
Some 1.3 million people are eligible to vote for the 121-seat Hamburg state legislature. (AP)
Merkel’s party struggles to defend majority in Hamburg election