German political crisis in Thuringia and Italian regional elections

At the October 2019 Thuringian state election, the far-left Left party won 29 of the 90 seats, the far-right AfD 22, the conservative CDU 21, the centre-left SPD eight, the Greens five and the pro-business FDP five. As covered here, the FDP barely entered parliament, just beating the 5% threshold.

With 46 seats needed for a majority, the former Left/SPD/Green government was unable to continue with only 42 combined seats. But alternative governments also appeared unviable as the CDU would not work with the Left. Any government that did not involve the Left would have needed the AfD’s support, but the AfD has been frozen out by all other German parties.

At the February 5 opening of parliament, Left leader Bodo Ramelow announced he would attempt to lead a minority government. The state president is elected by a secret ballot of MPs. The first two votes require an absolute majority of all MPs (46 votes). If this threshold is not met, a third vote is first-past-the-post.

Ramelow easily won the first two votes against the AfD’s candidate, but was short of the 46 required with many abstentions. On the third ballot, FDP leader Thomas Kemmerich entered, and defeated Ramelow by 45 votes to 44.

While it was a secret ballot, it was clear that Kemmerich could not have won without the support of both the CDU and AfD. It is the first time a German state president has been elected with AfD support.

After much condemnation, including from federal CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel, Kemmerich resigned on February 8. A new election is likely to be needed, but a two-thirds majority of the Thuringian parliament is required to approve it. Polls suggest large gains for the Left at the CDU’s expense, and a Left/SPD/Green coalition would likely win an election.

The Thuringian crisis has had federal consequences. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) was elected federal CDU leader, replacing Merkel in December 2018, and was expected to run as the CDU’s candidate for chancellor at the next German election. But AKK resigned on February 10, owing to the failure of the Thuringian CDU to heed her calls not to support a government propped up by the AfD. A new CDU leader will need to be elected, and the party could shift to the right.

Since the Thuringian crisis, there has been a slight dip for the CDU/CSU and a slight rise for the Greens in German federal polling. The AfD and SPD are unchanged, while there has been a rise for the Left and a fall for the FDP. Current standings are about 27% CDU/CSU, 22% Greens, 14% AfD, 13% SPD, 9% Left and 8% FDP.

Italian regional elections: left holds Emilia-Romagna, but right gains Calabria

Italian regional elections were held in Emilia-Romagna and Calabria on January 26. In Emilia-Romagna, the left-wing candidate for president defeated the far-right candidate by a 51.4-43.6 margin, with just 3.5% for the Five Star Movement’s candidate. Since 2014, the left vote was up 2.4%, the right vote up 11.4% and the Five Stars down 9.8%. This region was considered an important hold for the left as it has been governed by the left since World War 2.

In Calabria, the right crushed the left by a 55-30 margin; this was a 23% swing to the right and a 31% drop for the left since 2014.

Latest federal Italian polling has the far-right League just above 30%, followed by the centre-left Democrats at over 20%, the Five Stars at 14%, the far-right Brothers of Italy (FdI) at 12% and the conservative Forza Italia at 7%. Since the Five Stars joined a governing coalition with the Democrats in August 2019, their polling has slid, with the Democrats and FdI the main beneficiaries. Previously, the Five Stars governed with the League.

Centre-left wins in Taiwan

At the January 11 Taiwanese presidential election, centre-left incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen crushed her conservative challenger by a 57.1-38.6 margin. Since the 2016 election, this was a 1.0% increase for Tsai and a 7.6% increase for the Kuomintang party’s candidate.

UK’s Brexit debacle could lead to Labour landslide; Greens, not far right, surge in Germany

UK PM Theresa May has done a deal with the European Union regarding the UK’s exit from the European Union (Brexit).  However, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned on November 15 as he disagreed with the deal, and other ministers have also quit the government.  The deal will be finalised at a special European Summit on November 25, and will then need to be ratified by the UK Parliament.

The Conservatives govern in minority, with the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).  The DUP will not support the Brexit deal as they disagree with the Irish backstop arrangement.  Hard Brexiteers think the deal a betrayal of Britain, and are also likely to vote it down.

The major opposition parties – Labour, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats – will also vote against the deal.  In Labour’s case, they want to force an immediate general election.  The Lib Dems and SNP will oppose because they do not accept the premise of “no deal” vs May’s deal, and want Brexit called off.

There may be a few Labour rebels who will cross the floor to vote for May’s deal as they fear a “no deal”, but these will be more than compensated for by Conservative hard Brexiteers, hard Remainers, and the DUP.  The UK House of Commons is likely to reject May’s deal.

However, while Conservative rebels will vote against May’s deal, they are unlikely to vote for a formal no-confidence motion, the only way an early election can be held without the government’s consent.  Any Labour proposal to change Brexit would run into the same problem.

On March 29, 2019, the UK will leave the European Union, with or without a deal.  A no-deal Brexit is likely to greatly damage the UK economy, and the Conservatives are likely to be blamed for this damage.  Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was written off before the 2017 election, but forced the Conservatives into a minority government.  If a no-deal Brexit crashes the UK economy, Corbyn is likely to lead Labour to a landslide victory at the next general election.

The next election is not due until 2022, but, if the economic damage from a no deal Brexit is great enough, moderate Conservatives may consider a “socialist” government better than the UK’s economic collapse.  In such a circumstance, Labour could win a no-confidence motion, and force an election.

A source for this section is Stephen Bush of the New Statesman’s Morning Call email (though it is more like Evening Call in Melbourne).

The Greens are surging in Germany, not the far-right AfD

At the September 2017 German election, the combined conservative Union parties won 32.9%, the Social Democrats 20.5%, the far-right AfD 12.6%, the pro-business Free Democrats 10.7%, the Left party 9.2% and the Greens 8.9%.  In March 2018, the Social Democrats and Union parties formed a grand coalition government, the third time in the past fourterms such a right/left government had been formed.

Both major parties have lost support, with the Union parties falling to 26.4% in Wikipedia’s poll aggregate, and the Social Democrats to just 14.4%.  However, the Greens have been easily the biggest benificiary, not the AfD.  Greens’ support has surged to 21.0%, while AfD support has increased much less to 15.0%.

The Social Democrats’ 20.5% in 2017 was already the lowest they had polled at a general election since the Second World War, and their support has continued to drop, probably due to the grand coalition.  The Greens are likely to be the biggest left-wing party at the next German election.

At the October 2018 Bavarian state election, the Greens were second with 17.6%, up 9.0% since 2013.  Both the Social Union and Social Democrats suffered drops of over 10%.  The AfD, which did not contest the previous Bavarian election, won 10.2%.