Q+A: Merkel's party faces drubbing in state election
HAMBURG Feb 17 (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats face losing a state election in Hamburg on Sunday to the opposition Social Democrats which could make it harder for her coalition to pass legislation.
Following are some questions and answers about the election:
WHY IS THE HAMBURG ELECTION IMPORTANT?
The CDU has ruled the prosperous port city for the last 10 years and losing control of Hamburg, one of Germany's 16 federal states, would make it more difficult for Merkel's coalition to pass laws in the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament.
That would force Merkel to make compromises in the states' chamber with the opposition SPD. Merkel's coalition lost control of the Bundesrat when they lost power in North Rhine-Westphalia in May last year, leaving them just one vote short.
Losing Hamburg and its three Bundesrat seats would leave the coalition four votes short in the 69-seat chamber, making it far more difficult to try to get legislation through the upper house without major concessions to opposition demands.
It is the first of seven state elections this year and could have an influence on three state elections in March.
WHY IS THE BUNDESRAT IMPORTANT?
The upper house has to approve about half of the legislation that passes the Bundestag, or lower house, where Merkel's coalition won a solid majority in 2009 for a four-year term.
The upper house can pass or reject all laws affecting the states, in particular tax legislation.
The upper house composition changes after each state election. Often parties holding the chancellery and the lower house gradually lose control through state election defeats.
WHO IS LIKELY TO WIN IN HAMBURG?
Opinion polls in Hamburg project the SPD to win about 46 percent of the vote, up from 34 percent in the last election in 2008. The CDU, which won 42.6 percent in 2008, has plunged to 25 percent.
The SPD could win an absolute majority in Hamburg, which would give the centre-left opposition a boost at the start of the 2011 election calendar. It may need a coalition partner, most likely the Greens, who are polling 15 percent.
WHY IS THE SPD SO FAR AHEAD IN HAMBURG?
Hamburg was traditionally a left-wing bastion and the SPD ruled Germany's second largest city after Berlin for 44 consecutive years before being defeated 10 years ago by a popular CDU candidate, Ole von Beust [ID:nLDE71926S].
But von Beust quit politics last year, plunging the CDU into turmoil. The SPD is led by ex-Labour Minister Olaf Scholz, seen as a moderate safe pair of hands who played a role in helping Germany out of the financial crisis with far-sighted policies.
WILL THE HAMBURG RESULT HAVE A KNOCK-ON EFFECT?
Analysts believe the SPD nationally might get a short-term boost with a second consecutive state election victory following the bigger prize of North Rhine-Westphalia won in May.
But because local issues have dominated the election in Hamburg and the CDU is struggling due to a weak local candidate, it is seen as unlikely losing Hamburg will have a lasting impact on Merkel or her party.
In fact, her centre-right coalition has been gradually recovering in national polls and is now on par with the opposition SPD-Greens after erasing a 15-point gap since September [ID:nLDE71F1P4].
WHAT STATES ARE NEXT?
There are three state elections in March, the most important of which is Baden-Wuerttemberg on March 27. The CDU has ruled there since 1953 and losing control to the SPD and Greens could raise pressure on Merkel in the party to change direction.