Hamburg could become the first German state to be ruled by a coalition of Christian Democrats and Greens after a regional election gave neither centre-left nor centre-right an outright majority on Sunday.
Ole von Beust, the CDU mayor of the northern city-state, won 42.6 per cent per cent of the votes, the best result of all candidates, but left him holding too few seats to form a government with the free-market Free Democratic party. Kurt Beck’s Social Democratic Party won 34.1 per cent , an improvement on its last result but a disappointing score in a city that has historically been a Social Democrat stronghold.
Angela Merkel, the chancellor and CDU chairman, is likely to encourage Mr von Beust, who has so far ruled with an absolute majority, to seek an alliance with the Greens, traditional allies of the Social Democratic party.
Analysts said such a “black-green” government, the first in German history, would serve as a test of the two parties’ ability to work together ahead of the 2009 general election, when the CDU can no longer afford to rely only on the FDP as a coalition partner.
Opinion polls on Monday suggest the 2009 vote could yield a tie for the second time in a row, forcing CDU and SPD to try new coalition permutations or rule again together in a “grand coalition”.
A recent opinion poll showed nearly 60 per cent of Green voters favoured a “black-green” experiment at the regional level. Yet CDU and Greens are far apart politically and the coalition talks in Hamburg could be protracted.
The radical Left party was credited with 6.5 per cent of the vote on Sunday night, continuing its march into the country’s regional parliaments.
The emergence of a fifth party in Germany’s four-party system has upset the country’s political arithmetic, making it difficult for others to achieve the majorities needed to form traditional FDP-CDU or SPD-Green governments.
This resulted in the formation of Germany’s first “grand coalition” under Ms Merkel after the inconclusive election of 2005. In the state of Hesse, Roland Koch, the incumbent state premier, has yet to form a government one month after a ballot that delivered a similar outcome.
Kurt Beck, chairman of the SPD, was last week reported to have, for the first time, floated the possibility that the SPD’s defeated candidate in Hesse could form a minority government with the Greens and the tacit support of the Left party.
The apparent break with his hitherto categorical refusal to rule with the Left party caused an outcry in the SPD leadership. Jürgen Falter, professor of political science at Mainz University, said the controversy might have robbed the party of precious votes in Hamburg.
“There was a discussion last week that seems to have created some confusion,” Mr Beck said on Sunday night. “If I contributed to this, I regret it.”