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State elections in Schleswig Holstein on 08.05.2022

On 8th of May the state parliament of Schleswig Holstein was elected.

The Russian war against Ukraine played mainly an indirect role in the campaign regarding its consequences for the people in Schleswig Holstein: energy politics, inflation, gas prices. Issues of an anyway pending transformation which are also on the agenda of the federal government.

Regarding the attribution of competences in dealing with this transformation in the state the winners are the conservative Christian Democratic Party (CDU) and the greens (Grüne). The conservatives are furthermore regarded the undisputed leaders when it comes to dealing with the economy.

The social democrats (SPD) only had a lead in educational policy. This was not sufficient for the party, though, to substantially engage in the campaign with conservatives and greens leading on most other issues. So these two parties fought about the future of the state but not as a fight for power; rather about the future power balance between the two government partners. Both of them won eventually. The social democrats do not play a role having lost 62.000 voters to the CDU, 36.000 to the greens and 16.000 to the SSW (South Schleswig Voter Alliance, party of the Danish minority).

CDU (christian democratic)43,4 %+11,434
Grüne (green)18,3 %+5,414
SPD (social democratic)16 %-11,312
FDP (liberals)6,4 %-5,15
SSW (Danish minority)5,7 %+2,44
AfD  (rightwing populist)4,4 %-1,5-
DIE LINKE (left)1,7 %-2,1-

The advantage of incumbent Minister President Daniel Günther (CDU) was probably the fact that he offered a narrative for all relevant issues not excluding likely problems but guiding the path towards the right direction.

In this constellation the social democrats fell back to second row of the political landscape while the smaller parties (DIE LINKE, SSW, FDP, and AfD) completely ceased to attract the voters.

For the SSW this was the least problematic. The party of the Danish minority has a clear cut agenda and role. It is furthermore exempt from the five percent threshold. Therefore, the SSW comes out stronger from this specific election situation. “We are happy to have gained the best result ever in the history of the SSW” rejoiced their prime candidate on election night.

DIE LINKE had to suffer additionally from the very specific campaign situation. Merely once – in 2009 – the party entered parliament with six percent.  Otherwise it always remained below the five percent threshhold – just as the federal party during elections 2021. Yet, it is not visible whether the party has evaluated what can be learned from this disaster. The party stumbled over two of the defining campaign issues: Covid and the Ukraine. While the state level party took a levelheaded approach of the pandemic, anticipating risks and orienting its politics towards responsibility for health and welfare, other parts of the party could not let go of the habitual opposition against any governmental decision, relativising the seriousness of the situation and flitting about it in public and politics – in open contrast to the majority of society and the bigger part of its membership. DIE LINKE got to the offside even though it could have played a major role and challenge the strategic government alliance on federal level. It could have offered solutions to questions as to the lessons from the Covid crisis; to the resilience of economy and society facing exogenic hits to be expected by future pandemics, climate crisis, migration or other yet unforseeable developments. This opportunity was wasted.  

Far more dramatic challenges were posed to DIE LINKE by the war in Ukraine. The party`s central narrative of a Russian war threat as a figment of Western propaganda, of a peace loving Putin cornered by Western expansion, immediately collapsed with the Russian invasion. The leading heads of the party had to publicly admit to have followed an ideal and to have erred. Yet, to come to appropriate conclusions became another struggle. While at the first big peace demonstration in Berlin support for Ukraine including arms delivery and the new orientation of the security policy of the government found nearly unanimous approval, DIE LINKE opposing the new course of the Chancellor found itself on the offside again. Its criticism could not be linked to the critical positions in society. Partly its supporters were equally divided about the important issues. No consistent left strategy could be found to deal with these questions.

Adding to this were fundamental and current deficits and problems: its ideological core as well as political role were growingly disputed within the party. There was no unity even on the question of who the recipients of left politics should be, who to address and represent. Furthermore, the scandal about sexualised violence in the party came up during the campaign – a disastrous event for a party aspiring to be left, emancipatory and feminist. Party co-chair Susanne Hennig-Wellsow resigned in the course of the events. DIE LINKE in Schleswig-Holstein was leading a motivated campaign, the party as a whole on the other hand removed itself further from society towards isolation.

Currently, the existence of the party is at stake. Even on federal level polls only see it at about three percent.

The liberals (FDP) – part of the successful coalition with the conservatives – dealt with at least two difficulties.

For one, support for the party decreases everywhere since it became part of the government coalition because it is not seen as a “natural” partner of social democrats and greens. For proponents of a debt brake in its membership one of the reasons is probably the fact that liberal Finance Minister Lindner is forced to further increase federal debt due to the war in Ukraine and the Covid pandemic.

On the other hand, one factor which could be observed during other state parliament elections for a while already may have played a role: incumbent Minister Presidents are being reelected in the face of a world of growing insecurities and political-cultural divides in society. To strengthen the strong, this  motif has a strong effect, excluding not just the AfD from the state parliament but hurting the liberals and the social democrats as well.

Polls saw the rightwing populist AfD at already comparibly low six percent. Nationwide voters consider the party as quarrelling – the Schleswig Holstein party celebrates this inner dispute with particular intensity especially regarding the extreme right past of its intermittent party chair Sayn-Wittgenstein.

On election night the party missed reentry for the first time since the party began entering German parliaments. The crisis of the CDU of which it could have profitted was apparently overcome by the conservative prime candidate.  During the Covid and Ukraine crises the party mainly held positions similar to conspiracy- or Putin supporters – the voter potential thus approached was not enough to assert parliamentarian presence. Additionally, the party lost votes to conservatives, liberals and non-voters.

The election result has a clear state political touch, federal and international issues had only a secondary influence. The elections show how chances of success develop and how they can be used, which role personalities play and the political culture. Yet, they do not have significance for the political development on federal level.

Government formation will not influence the federal relations much. Neither a conservative/green nor a conservative/liberal coalition will change power relations in the Federal Council to the advantage or disadvantage of the federal government coalition.

[Translated excerpt. Original: Thomas Falkner]