The Implications of Saxony’s and Brandenburg’s Election Results

The states of Saxony and Brandenburg have voted. And while the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD) appear to display an ill-advised form of relief, both are left with a big ask: to find stable coalitions and further isolate the Alternative for Germany (AfD). Both goals are likely to fail.

The elections in the eastern German states of Saxony and Brandenburg have caused the latest defeat for CDU chair Kramp-Karrenbauer and her government partner SPD. The CDU claimed victory despite significant losses (-7.3%). The situation was even worse in Brandenburg, where the party dropped to just 15.6% (-7.4%). Meanwhile, The SPD lost 5.7% in Brandenburg but likely remains in power, while in Saxony, the party plummeted to a record low of 7.7% (-4.7%). September 1st was yet another important win for the AfD. The party gained significant support in both states (Brandenburg: +11.3%, Saxony: +17.8%). A first-time victory, which appeared conceivable in the polls, did not materialise, however – for now.

In Saxony, the CDU received 32.1% of the vote and remained, despite significant losses, the strongest party. The AfD came second with 27.5%. The Left reached 10.4% and the Greens 8.6%. The SPD crashed to historically low of 7.7%, while the FDP failed to reach the 5% stipulation (4.5%).

Saxony’s CDU Minister-President Michael Kretschmer called it, despite the losses, a “really good day” for the state. A good day for “the friendly Saxony”, referring to having just beaten the AfD by 4.6%. His task now will be to form a stable government. However, the continuation of the CDU-SPD coalition is unlikely, as the majority was not maintained. Therefore, a “Kenya coalition” of CDU, SPD, and Greens has emerged as the most conceivable option.

In the state election in Brandenburg, the SPD won with 26.2%. Behind them the AfD with significant gains and 23.5%. The CDU received 15.6%. The SPD-The Left government coalition in Brandenburg was voted out. Minister-President Dietmar Woidke nevertheless reacted positively to the results, stating it was “important to me that Brandenburg remains in good hands.” The task to now form a stable government was a challenge, by his admission. Nonetheless, a now likely coalition of SPD, The Left, and Greens are likely to materialise easier than Kretschmer’s task in Saxony.

The former self-proclaimed party of the eastern German people, The Left, had the worst day in its history in both states. It strengthens the Greens, who will now be a key factor in establishing a coalition in Saxony as well as Brandenburg.

The AfD described its election results as “great success” and announced its claim to political participation. The AfD had “come to stay”, AfD’s top candidate in Brandenburg, Andreas Kalbitz proclaimed visibly exited, while Bundestag faction Weidel spoke of an “excellent result”. In Saxony, 60% of people had voted conservatively. To ignore this trend would be “undemocratic,” Weidel opined. Meanwhile, party spokesman Jörg Meuthen reemphasized his stance that the AfD was “not radical and nor an extremist party” and should, therefore, chastised as such.

However, Sunday left political Germany with two major takeaways in particular.

First, CDU and SPD managed to survive. And while the grand coalition in Berlin certainly has not reinvented itself with yesterday’s results, it has bought itself some time. Despite both suffering severe losses and majorities of the previous five years, their Minister-Presidents remained in power. Meanwhile, the SPD managed to satisfy the 5% threshold in Saxony, thereby mitigating what could have been a worst-case scenario. However, it says something about the major parties’ status quos, if anything but a total disaster as well as preventing a six-year-old AfD to win the election, is assessed as somewhat acceptable.

Second, the new coalitions may not only be volatile, but detrimental in the long run. Particularly in Saxony. Volatile, as a very conservative CDU in Saxony, will negotiate with a hard-left Greens party. Here, the CDU is not only facing compromises that may lead to a loss in the party’s profile, but also internal volatility. The countrywide dictum of a categorical no towards the AfD is not as sacrosanct amongst Saxony’s CDU. Many members may prefer a coalition with the populists. Minister-President Kretschmer is tasked with bridging these ideological gaps without weakening his position. And while in Brandenburg a likely SPD-The Left-Greens government may not sound inconceivable; a three-party coalition will make it much harder for the SPD to materialise its visions. Not to mention that a course to the hard-left does not seem to affirm the voter’s will, as impressively displayed by the AfD’s gains.

The AfD will not govern. And the party does not need to. With the remaining parties desperately trying to find common ground, the opposition is exactly where the AfD seeks to be. It allows them to increase their popularity even further, without the risk of being exposed in an actual government function. This popularity will be provided for by the remaining parties. A CDU, that will likely lose much of its profile if it enters a coalition with the Greens, while and a hard-left SPD government in Brandenburg promises stagnancy in place of progress for the people in a region, where voters have felt left behind, to begin with.

All of it leads to the very same, almost inevitable outcome: The established parties will continue to do the work for the AfD, thereby making a future governing AfD more conceivable than ever. Tomorrow’s loss, indeed.