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.

Far-right Salvini loses power in Italy; Israeli polls; far-right surges in two German state elections

At the March 2018 Italian election, the anti-establishment populist Five Star Movement won 227 of the 630 lower house seats, with 125 for the far-right populist League, 112 for the centre-left Democrats and 104 for the centre-right Forza Italia. The Senate result was similar.

After the election, the Five Stars formed a coalition with the League. This coalition combined held 352 of the 630 lower house seats and 170 of the 315 Senate seats – clear majorities in both chambers.

In early August, League leader Matteo Salvini broke his coalition with the Five Stars. Polls had the League in the high 30’s, far ahead of any other party. With another far-right party, the Brothers of Italy, taking about 6%, Salvini thought that new elections would give him an outright majority in the Italian Parliament.

However in late August, the Five Stars unexpectedly formed another coalition, this time with the Democrats. The Democrats and Five Stars have 339 of the 630 lower house seats and 165 of the 315 Senate seats. The majority for the coalition parties is reduced compared with the Five Star/League coalition, but it is still a clear majority.

On September 3, the new coalition agreement was endorsed by Five Star members in an online vote by a huge margin of 79% to 21%. The new government must still win confidence votes in both chambers of the Italian Parliament.

Although the Five Stars were the majority party in the former coalition with the League, Salvini had appeared to be the most powerful figure in that coalition. By trying to seize outright power, he drove the Five Stars into an alliance with a left-wing party, and cost his party any role in government. Italy’s government has shifted to the left. The next Italian election is not due until May 2023.

Update September 11: On September 9-10, the Five Star/Democrat government easily won confidence votes in both chambers of Parliament: the lower house by 343-263 and the Senate by 169-133.

Israeli polls suggest another deadlocked Knesset

Right-wing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to have won his fourth successive term at the April 2019 election when right-wing and religious parties won a combined 65 of the 120 Knesset seats. But Yisrael Beiteinu demanded conscription be introduced for the ultra-Orthodox, which the religious parties disagreed with. Netanyahu was unable to form a government, and new elections were scheduled for September 17.

Polls suggest a similar outcome to March 2019. Netanyahu’s Likud and its allies have 54-57 combined Knesset seats. The left-leaning Blue & White and other parties who could support it have 53-55 seats. So Yisrael Beiteinu, which is not a left-wing party, may well decide if there can be a new government after the election.

All 120 Knesset seats are elected by national proportional representation with a 3.25% threshold.

Far-right AfD surges in two German state elections

On September 1, elections were held in the German states of Brandenburg and Saxony. In Brandenburg, the centre-left SPD won 25 of the 88 seats (down five since the 2014 election), the far-right AfD won 23 (up 12), the centre-right CDU 15 (down six), the Greens ten (up four), the far-left Left ten (down seven) and a local party won the remaining five seats. An SPD/Green/Left alliance would have 45 of the 88 seats, a bare majority.

In Saxony, the CDU won 45 of the 120 seats (down 14 since 2014), the AfD 38 (up 24), the Left 14 (down 13), the Greens 12 (up four) and the SPD ten (down eight). While this was a strong performance for the AfD, they came first in Saxony at the 2017 German federal election. To secure a majority of 61 seats without the AfD, the CDU will need to ally with the Greens and the SPD.