SPD IN DRIVER'S SEAT FOR BERLIN ELECTIONVZCZCXYZ0005
DE RUEHRL #2546/01 2421538
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 301538Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY BERLIN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5009
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE C O N F I D E N T I A L BERLIN 002546
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/27/2021
TAGS: PGOV GM
SUBJECT: SPD IN DRIVER'S SEAT FOR BERLIN ELECTION
Classified By: PolCouns John Bauman. Reason: 1.4(b) and (d)
¶1. (U) Summary. With three weeks to go, opinion polls and political commentators and contacts all say Berlin's September 17 election of a new parliament is the SPD's to lose. The Social Democrats lead the Christian Democrats by over ten percent in all polls and the ratings gap between the two parties' candidates for Mayor is even greater. Real interest is already focusing on whom the SPD will chose as a coalition partner - the Left Party.PDS with which the SPD now governs the city, or the Green Party. The election, which is expected, in essence, to confirm Berlin's left of center majority, will have no immediate national political implications. However, Mayor Wowereit has signaled his interest in playing a role in national SPD politics in the future. Because of the predicted low turnout, concerns have been expressed by some observers that parties of the far-right will gain seats in some of Berlin's district assemblies. End Summary.
The Campaign: SPD in Charge; CDU in Tatters
¶2. (C) The state of Berlin leaves much to be desired - the weak school system has been the subject of a steady drumbeat of critical headlines for months; the business climate is at best stagnant and high-profile departures or attempted departures of big employers are an issue; the city's enormous debt continues to grow steadily and is now at 60 billion euros. Nonetheless, support for the SPD remains strong at 30-35 percent (ahead of the 29 percent taken in 2001) and Mayor Wowereit is genuinely popular. CDU xxxxx admits that the CDU's lead candidate, Friedbert Pflueger, simply cannot match Wowereit for charisma and campaign skills. Moreover, the Berlin CDU has been damaged by: 1) years of infighting and tension between modernizers in the party, including Pflueger, and old-school conservatives; and 2) the lingering effects of a banking scandal that drove it from office in 2001. Pflueger, from Lower Saxony, also suffers from a carpetbagger image - his last-minute announcement that he would give up his Bundestag membership and Defense Ministry State Secretaryship to concentrate on Berlin has not helped. The CDU has been hovering at around 20 percent in polls since even before the campaign began.
¶3. (C) CDU and SPD contacts agree that the turnout for the election will likely be very low. SPD Berlin Business Manager Ruediger Scholz fears this could hurt the SPD more than the CDU and so the party intends to focus on getting its core supporters to the polls in the final weeks of the campaign. Scholz points out that a low turnout is likely to benefit smaller parties with more ideological voters - meaning the far-left WASG and the far-right NPD and Republicans. He and most other interlocutors seem to expect that the far-right will win seats in the district assemblies in at least some of Berlin's eastern districts while the WASG could win seats in Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain. The threshold for entry is winning only three percent of district votes. Neither far-right nor far-left is given any chance of clearing the five percent threshold for entry into the state parliament.
¶4. (C) The Left Party.PDS, according to Berlin leader Klaus Lederer, cannot expect a repeat of its 23 percent performance in 2001. That showing was the result of the banking scandal, which briefly tarred the SPD as well as CDU, and the star quality of then-PDS lead candidate Gregor Gysi, now fully occupied in the Bundestag. Polls put the LP.PDS at around 15 percent, which is where the Greens also stand. Thus, either party could be a plausible partner for the SPD. Mayor Wowereit has stated his desire to remain in government with the LP.PDS, though the two parties have not concluded a formal electoral alliance. The SPD's Scholz, Green Berlin caucus leader Sibyll Klotz, and Berlin FDP leader Markus Loening all agree that the LP.PDS would make the more comfortable partner for Wowereit because of the ease of their cooperation thus far and because keeping the LP.PDS in government defuses a large bloc of voters who could be mobilized easily to protest the cuts and privatizations which the government has used to try and recover control of the budget. However, Scholz notes that it would probably be better for the city and for Wowereit given his political ambitions, if he were to form a coalition with the Greens, who are more centrist (especially on finance) and, at the federal level, presentable. Green state parliament member Oezcan Mutlu argued strongly that Wowereit will opt for the Greens based on these considerations, though he acknowledged that working with the Greens would be harder. He even said that, given Green fractiousness, they would have to bring a 7-8 seat majority into a coalition to make it stable.
¶5. (C) If the numbers did not work out for a two-party coalition (and all our contacts reject the idea of a Grand Coalition), then the most likely option seems to be an SPD-LP.PDS-Green alliance. However, some in the FDP (now at 8-9 percent in polls) hope that in such a situation, they might have a chance of sidling into power. Berlin FDP lead candidate Martin Lindner and Loening have told us that they believe the Greens would rather work with them than the LP.PDS. This seems quite a long shot, though, as Berlin Greens stand quite far to the left in the Green spectrum.
¶6. (C) The Berlin election is unlikely to have major national significance under any circumstances. The Grand Coalition recognizes this and, unlike in the period before the spring elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt, is not postponing debate on contentious issues. However, in two aspects the elections are noteworthy. First, a victory will boost Klaus Wowereit's chance of playing a greater role in the SPD nationally, especially as he is seen as a standard-bearer for the party left. Second, even very localized success by the far-right will provoke comment and a measure of consternation and signal that the particular problem posed by far-rightist ideologues in eastern Germany remains to be resolved. End Comment.