Berlin (DPA) – The German Green Party’s hopes of making history in a key state election this month have suffered a setback in the wake of a drug scandal that has engulfed one of its prominent members.
Voter surveys have pointed to the Greens for the first time emerging as the biggest party in a German parliament at the election in the conservative south-western state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, which is one of three states going to the polls on March 13.
But this week’s arrest of the Greens’ long-serving national lawmaker Volker Beck has sent shock waves across the party as it gears up for the crucial final week of campaigning for the elections, which are also being held for regional parliaments in Saxony-Anhalt and Rhineland-Palatinate.
The Greens’ Baden-Wuerttemberg leader Winfried Kretschmann lashed out at Beck on Thursday describing the incident as “a severe lapse” on the part of his party colleague.
Beck was picked up by police on Tuesday night in central Berlin with what unconfirmed news reports say was crystal meth.
“I can now only hope that a single wrongdoing will not have repercussions for others. And I assume it won’t,” said Kretschmann with a reference to the three state elections.
Kretschmann is also the first and only Green state premier – heading up a Green party-led coalition, which swept Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) from office in 2011 after her party ruled the state for six decades.
Since then, Kretschmann has emerged a popular business-friendly leader of Baden-Wuerttemberg, which is home to some of Germany’s biggest brand names including Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Hugo Boss and computer giant SAP.
Peter Matuschek from the Berlin-based pollsters Forsa believes that the Beck affair will have little impact on the vote for Kretschmann, saying voters will distinguish between national political events and state issues.
Moreover, the 67-year-old Kretschmann has carefully crafted an image as father of the state with his pragmatic conservative politics frequently placing him on a collision course with other more left-wing Green members.
“This is a state with strong traditions and … I live those traditions” Kretschmann told the daily Berliner Zeitung on Thursday.
A practising Catholic and former scientist teacher, Kretschmann has strongly identified himself with Merkel, praising her leadership as well as her controversial handling of Germany’s refugee crisis.
Polls also show a very close race in Baden-Wuerttemberg, with the Greens edging slightly ahead with 30.5 per cent of the vote compared with 30 per cent for the CDU, according to a poll drawn up last month by pollsters Insa for the daily Bild.
“It is completely open who will be state premier in a couple of weeks,” political scientist Ulrich Eith told dpa.
But while the latest polls point to a substantial drop in support for the CDU since the 2011 election, backing for the Greens has jumped from 24.2 per cent over the last five years, highlighting Kretschmann’s success in pushing the Greens to the political centre.
The CDU is determined to regain power in Baden-Wuerttemberg, seeing Germany’s third biggest state as part of its political heartland.
A win for Merkel’s party in Baden-Wuerttemberg and the other two states would represent a major political boost to the chancellor as she attempts to see off critics of her handling of the refugees crisis.
But Kretschmann is also optimistic about returning to office this month after the staunchly anti-nuclear Greens rode to power in 2011 on the back of concerns about atomic energy triggered by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Voters in Baden-Wuerttemberg also swung behind the Greens in 2011 after Kretschmann opposed the former CDU-led state government’s deeply unpopular plans for building a new central railway in the state capital Stuttgart.
But the problem for Kretschmann could be in forming a new post-election government. Support for his current coalition partners, the left-leaning Social Democrats, has dropped from 23.1 per cent in 2011 to just 16.5 per cent in the latest polls.
A vote along those lines would give the Greens and the SDP a bare majority of 47 per cent.
However, Kretschmann has not ruled out other coalition options, including the Greens teaming up with the CDU or the formation of a multi-party coalition, incorporating the pro-business Free Democrats.