German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats look set for a major victory in the small western German state of Saarland on Sunday, exit polls show, putting the party on top in the first of four regional elections taking place this year.
The Social Democratic Party (SPD) is predicted to get 43.2 percent of the votes, according to the first projections by public broadcaster ZDF. That puts Scholz’s party way ahead of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) of current state premier Tobias Hans, trailing on just 28 percent.
It means the SPD’s lead candidate, Anke Rehlinger, is set to oust Hans, who had previously governed with the SPD as a junior partner.
If the exit poll numbers are confirmed by final results, the Social Democrats would be on track to achieve a majority in the Saarland state parliament and they could govern without the need for a coalition partner.
Of the other parties in the running, only two more are currently set to make it past the 5 percent hurdle needed for entry to the state parliament. They are the Greens — on 5.5 percent, per the ZDF projection — and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) on 5.4 percent. It’s still uncertain whether the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), which got 4.9 percent, according to the projections, will make it into parliament.
Although Saarland is Germany’s second-smallest federal state in terms of population, with just below 1 million inhabitants, the vote is likely to bolster the power of Scholz, who was elected chancellor at the end of last year following a surprise victory in the September federal elections. Those elections saw the SPD oust the CDU of former chancellor Angela Merkel, who did not run for re-election, after 16 years in office.
The SPD’s Secretary General Kevin Kühnert spoke of a “landslide victory” in the wake of the vote, arguing it would also have an effect on nationwide politics. “This gives an insane tailwind,” he told ZDF.
Germany faces three even more important state elections this year: in Schleswig-Holstein on May 8; in North Rhine-Westphalia, the biggest state in terms of population, on May 15; and in Lower Saxony on October 9.