Scholz’s Social Democrats face crushing defeat in northern German state vote

KIEL, Germany — Germany’s center-right opposition scored a strong victory in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein on Sunday, dealing a blow to the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which lost power at the national level in last year’s general election, got 43 percent of the votes in Schleswig-Holstein, according to initial projections by public broadcaster NDR. That’s a gain of 11 percentage points from the last state election in 2017, which means incumbent CDU state premier Daniel Günther will be able to rule for another five years.

In contrast, the SPD suffered a crushing defeat in the northern state, getting only 15.5 percent of the votes, nearly 12 percentage points less than five years ago, according to the projections. The SPD was even overtaken by the Greens, which came second at 17 percent, gaining about 4 points. The liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) fell back about 4.5 points to 7 percent. Scholz’s SPD governs with the Greens and FDP at the national level.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is projected to win only 4.9 percent, meaning it risks missing the 5 percent hurdle required for entry into parliament. The Südschleswigscher Wählerverband, or South Schleswig Voters’ Association — a party representing the Danish and Frisian minorities in Schleswig-Holstein — nearly doubled its votes and got 6 percent.

Although state elections in Germany only represent the broader national political mood to a limited extent — and much of the CDU’s strong showing in Schleswig-Holstein is being attributed to the popularity of premier Günther — the results set a worrying trend for Chancellor Scholz ahead of another even more important regional election in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, next Sunday. In North Rhine-Westphalia, the CDU and SPD have been neck-to-neck in the polls, with the CDU gaining a small lead in recent days.

Scholz has been accused at home and abroad of being too hesitant in his support for Ukraine against Russia’s aggression, and of having communicated poorly about the reasons for his reluctance.

In contrast, the CDU’s leader at the national level, Friedrich Merz, landed a coup this past week by visiting Kyiv and adopting a statesmanlike role in a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The victory in Schleswig-Holstein will help Merz to strengthen his role as opposition leader, after another state vote in Saarland in March — the first German election since Merz took over the CDU leadership earlier this year — resulted in a big win for the Social Democrats.

This article has been updated.