Election in North Rhine-Westphalia – regional election with great importance

It is the biggest test for the political mood in Germany in 2022: in the most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, around 13 million people are called on Sunday to elect a new state parliament. Classic political constellations meet here: A black-yellow coalition of CDU and FDP is currently governing in Düsseldorf under Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst (CDU). SPD challenger Thomas Kutschaty, on the other hand, left no doubt that he would like to form a red-green government on the Rhine and Ruhr.

After an election campaign in which the war in Ukraine and rising energy prices often overshadowed regional issues, pollsters are expecting a head-to-head race: and the main race will be between the traditional mainstream parties. But according to the last two surveys by the research group Wahlen and Insa, the CDU is ahead with 30 and 31 percent of the votes. It is followed by the SPD with 28 to 29 percent. The Greens can count on 16 to 18 percent of the votes, the FDP with seven to eight percent, the AfD with seven percent. The left seems to miss entering the state parliament in Düsseldorf.

According to the surveys, the governing coalition of the 46-year-old libertine will no longer have a majority. SPD challenger Kuchaty has announced that he intends to forge a coalition even if his party does not become the strongest force. Future coalition partners may therefore face lengthy talks and soundings after election day. The Greens, led by top candidate Mona Neubaur, are clearly leaning towards an alliance with the Social Democrats – and according to polls, it could even be a two-party alliance. Vice Prime Minister Joachim Stamp (FDP), on the other hand, told Reuters that he would continue the coalition with the CDU.

The uncertainty about the election result is increased by the fact that neither Wüst nor Kuchaty have won a state election so far. “There is no incumbent bonus like in other state elections,” stresses SPD co-leader Lars Klingbeil. And when it comes to personality values, Wüst and Kuchaty are relatively close together.

Merz is fighting for CDU victory in his home country

“It’s a surprise that Prime Minister Wüst isn’t clearly ahead,” says political scientist Gero Neugebauer. After all, since 2017 – with the exception of the election in Saarland – the incumbent prime ministers have always been able to defend their office. But Wüst, who only rose from Transport Minister to succeed Prime Minister Armin Laschet at the end of October 2021, is struggling with the Mallorca affair of the then Environment Minister Ursula Heinen-Esser. Heinen-Esser was on vacation on the Balearic island after the flood disaster and had to resign under pressure at the beginning of April.

The election in North Rhine-Westphalia is also of great importance in terms of federal politics: This is due solely to the size of the federal state, which combines a wide variety of regions. These range from the Ruhr area, the former center of the German coal and steel industry, through the media metropolis of Cologne to rural Sauerland. Thanks to German federalism, whoever governs here has a lot of creative freedom.

In addition, many top politicians in the federal government come from North Rhine-Westphalia. This applies to the FDP leader and finance minister Christian Lindner as well as to the CDU chairman Friedrich Merz. The conservative also spends a lot of time on market squares and in city centers and supports top candidate Wüst in the election campaign. Because a CDU defeat in his home country would rub off heavily on Merz.

But there is also a lot at stake for the SPD, which just last weekend fell far behind the CDU in Schleswig-Holstein. If, as announced by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the Merkel years are actually to be followed by a social democratic decade, a victory in North Rhine-Westphalia would be essential.(reuters/klh)

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