The black and yellow state government in Düsseldorf was voted out in the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia. According to the current ZDF projection, the CDU came in at 35.3 percent in the most populous federal state and was thus the strongest force, but the FDP performed poorly at 5.5 percent.
In 2017, the Liberals had won 12.6 percent in their home country and were thus able to form a coalition with the Conservatives with a one-vote majority. Nevertheless, CDU Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst, who took over from Armin Laschet in October, could also lead the coming state government. The SPD around top candidate Thomas Kutschaty only made it to second place and, according to the ZDF projection, received 27.5 percent. The Greens came third with 17.9 percent.
Wüst thanked party friends for the voters’ trust. “This is the task of forming and leading a future government,” said Wüst. The Prime Minister also thanked the FDP. “We have always been reliably oriented towards the interests of the people in this country.”
For the SPD, the election in North Rhine-Westphalia is another setback. A week after the crushing defeat in Schleswig-Holstein, it was again not enough for the party to get past the CDU. The party achieved its worst state election result in the so-called “heart chamber of social democracy”.
The election is also a disappointment for Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The war in Ukraine and the course taken by the federal government had overshadowed the election campaign in North Rhine-Westphalia. Kuchaty had deliberately sought proximity to Scholz. The two had appeared together several times, and the top candidate and the chancellor had campaigned together for the SPD on election posters.
But the 53-year-old lawyer could still become prime minister. On the early evening of the election, it was initially unclear whether a coalition between the SPD and the Greens could be just enough. A traffic light coalition with the FDP would have a secure majority. SPD General Secretary Kevin Kühnert announced his party’s exploratory talks despite the weak result. “Of course, the runner-up can also negotiate a government,” he said on ZDF.
The Greens around top candidate Mona Neubaur now seem to be kingmakers for the coming state government.
The party roughly tripled its 2017 election result and achieved its best result in North Rhine-Westphalia. The Greens had deliberately not decided on a preferred partner before the election day. They are now faced with the decision of whether they want to enter into a black-green alliance with Wüst as prime minister.
This decision should also depend on whether the election night is a success or a setback for the new CDU chairman Friedrich Merz. Unlike in Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein, the man from Sauerland was heavily involved in the election campaign in his home country. Within the party, the election was the first indicator for Merz, who has been at the head of the Christian Democrats since the end of January.
After the debacle in Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein, the left failed to enter a state parliament in the third state election this year. In 2017, after gaining votes, the party narrowly failed to pass the 5 percent hurdle with 4.9 percent of the votes. This time, according to the current ZDF projection, it was only enough for 2.2 percent after internal party Zoff, Metoo cases and disputes about future Russia policy.
The AfD had to tremble to re-enter the Düsseldorf state parliament. The numbers saw the radical-right party at 5.6 percent of the vote. In 2017, the AfD had already received a significantly weaker result of 7.4 percent than in the eastern German states. A week ago, the right-wingers in Kiel were kicked out of a state parliament for the first time.
During the election campaign, Wüst and Kuchaty had to struggle with awareness and popularity problems. In the only TV duel in the past week, they appeared harmoniously. In terms of content, the two men hardly differed, even passages of their election programs they could not tell apart.
Wüst emphasized that the CDU had succeeded in getting more police officers onto the streets in North Rhine-Westphalia and taking a resolute stand against clan crime. Due to the shortage of teachers, Kuchaty called for more career changers in schools and free daycare places nationwide.
13 million people were called to vote in the so-called “small federal election”. Most recently, 20 percent of voters in North Rhine-Westphalia stated that they did not yet know who they wanted to vote for. Voter turnout collapsed compared to 2017. Only 56 percent cast their votes, about ten percentage points fewer than five years ago.