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State elections in Saarland on 27.03.2022

The elections let to landslide changes of the states’ political power balance. For the first time since elections in 1994 the Social Democrats (SPD) came out strongest again with a clear lead.

A social democrat – Anke Gabriele Rehlinger – will be Prime Minister, giving the party a states chancellery for the first time again since 2013.

With the current result the old two-party constellation was revived at the expense of the Left party (LINKE) which was once the only party capable of breaking through the two party system with more than 20 percent. Now, voters dismissed the party as irrelevant and it had to leave parliament altogether.

Due to the election threshold about 22 percent of valid votes will not be represented in the state parliament: a historically high number in the parliamentary democracy of the federal republic.

Voter turnout (61%) was lower than in 2017 (70%) mainly due to a demobilisation of Christian Conservative (CDU) voters.

SPD (social democrats)43,5 %+13,929
CDU (christian conservatives)28,5 %-12,219
AfD (rightwing populist)5,7 %-0,53
Grüne (greens)4,995 %+0,99-
FDP (liberals)4,8 %+1,5-
LINKE (left)2,6 %-10,2-

The Social Democrats (SPD) have won an election in Saarland for the first time since 1994. Like back then, they again achieved the absolute majority which is only possible today because a fifth of the votes not being represented in parliament. This victory is mainly due to state party chair Anke Rehlinger. She was much more appealing to the voters than conservative office holder Tobias Hahn. Her good result was to a great extent sustained by the outcome of Social Democrats in federal elections last September. This power change on state level will give the Social Democrats in federal government some political leeway at the Bundesrat, the Federal Assembly. Adding to the popularity of the candidate is a grown attribution of economic competence to the party due to her years as economic minister. In other political fields the party has not seen a rise in competence attribution. Which may also have contributed to the success is the clear dismissal of a cooperation with the quarrelling left party (LINKE).

The Christian Conservative Party (CDU) experienced double digit losses and its worst election result since Saarland joined the Federal Republic in 1957. This is mainly due to the comparibly low popularity ratings of office holder Tobias Hans. The federal party’s approval ratings are also in a downward spiral since 2017 which could not be prevented by new federal party leader Friedrich Merz.

As the third party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) re-enters parliament even though it is among the smaller, disunited parties in Saarland. Despite lack of organisation it became third strongest force and the only further party in parliament.

The Greens (Grüne) are likewise shaken by innerparty hostilities and failed to re-enter parliament by a very small margin. They need to accept a loss in ratings regarding their climate and energy policy.

The liberals (FDP) remain a bystander for the third time yet with a thighter call this time receiving 4,8 percent.

Both smaller partners of the federal government coalition – Greens and liberals – had to take losses mainly due to the overwhelming majority of voters aged above 60. If only age group 18 to 60 had voted, both parties would be represented with 8-9 % for the Greens and 6-7% for the liberals according to polls.

DIE LINKE saw a disastrous, bitter election night. It lost 83 percent of its 2017 votes mainly to the Social Democrats (-17.000), the non voters (-17.000) and “other parties” (-9.000). This voter movement shows voter potential dissolving into different directions. For this political catastrophe federal as well as state political reasons are relevant.

Saarland always was the political reference frame for the project of a successful split from the SPD (the “WASG”, one of the two parties merging to DIE LINKE in 2007) supported by a prominent and succesful former Social Democrat (Saarland-based Oskar Lafontaine) positioning itself as the more stringent welfare state party. This political business model got more and more into trouble from 2012 on. Political and societal conditions changed as well as the composition of the working class. This was not accompanied by substantial and strategic adaptations, instead frozen compromises led to stagnation. As a consequence, the party was left empty handed the moment political options reopened after Angel Merkels abdication. It could barely explain its usefulness now that the Social Democrats were considered social democratic again.

State political reasons for the failure of DIE LINKE are closely linked to the founder of the WASG, Oskar Lafontaine. He failed to form a true state-wide party which could be a serious competition to SPD and CDU. Instead the state party organisation became a symbol of self-destruction through personal animosity. His leaving the party only days before the elections buried not just the political reference project but also the idea of a left social democratic party next to the SPD for good and he implicitly promoted voting for them. This hint was understood by numerous former LINKE/Lafontaine voters which swapped to Anke Rehlinger. For upcoming elections in West German states the Saarland election, thus, does not bode well for DIE LINKE. Personal hostilities and subsequent loss of trust may have played a role in the demise to parliamentarian meaninglessness. Yet, the Saarland LINKE now is on the same extra-parliamentary level as in all West German states other than Hesse, Hamburg and Bremen.

The Saarland election for DIE LINKE indicates that its loss of significance picks up further pace and a continued watchful waiting for a promising situation is no option for success.

(Translated excerpt. Original: Horst Kahrs)