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Germany's Old Political Guard Suffers Another Setback

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, Volker Bouffier and Armin Laschet, Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia attend a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leadership meeting in Berlin, Germany, Oct. 15, 2018.

Since 1966 Germany's conservative Christian Social Union has been the majority party in its home-state of Bavaria, but on Sunday the long-run ended when voters disillusioned with its courting of the far-right flocked to the Green Party.

The Christian Social Union, or CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat Union, or CDU, has dominated politics in Bavaria since the end of World War II. For only three years in the past seven decades has the CSU not been the majority party in Bavaria's parliament.

Although its fall from political grace in Sunday's state polls had been widely predicted, the scale of the massive losses it sustained will impact Merkel's coalition government in Berlin, say analysts.

Preliminary results gave the CSU just 37.2 percent of the vote, down from 47.7 percent in 2013.

To add to Merkel's woes her other coalition partner, the leftist Social Democrat Party, or SPD, was also dealt a massive blow Sunday. Its share of the vote in Bavaria was halved from 20.6 percent in 2013 to only 10 percent, the worst result for the party in the state since the 1930s, adding to a grim picture of SPD decline nationally.

The beneficiaries Sunday were former fringe parties with the pro-immigration, environmentalist Greens coming in second place with 17.5 percent, and the far-right, anti-immigration Alternative for Deutschland party, or AfD, taking 10.2 percent of the vote. That performance will give the AfD seats in the Bavarian parliament for the first time, a stunning result for a party that's never before competed in a Bavarian state election.

Sunday's election is adding to the picture of a fragmentation of German politics, testimony to the continued resonance of the 2015 refugee crisis and disputes over migration. It confirms the country's once traditional parties are in decline and are seen by a swathe of the electorate as no longer representing them adequately.

"Germany's political fragmentation, which was shown strongly in the 2017 federal elections, is continuing at full speed," according to Leopold Traugott of the Open Europe research group.

The problem for the traditional parties is how to halt the electoral fragmentation as center ground of German politics gives way. As Germany's old political guard cracks, it is compounding Merkel's immediate problem of keeping intact her shaky coalition government, formed in March after four months of testy negotiations.

The "Iron Lady" of German politics is increasingly beleaguered and even her most faithful supporters aren't convinced she will be able to see out her full electoral term due to end in 2021.

Since her Christian Democrat party's dismal performance in last year's parliamentary elections she's been beset by one crisis after another. Last month she lost her key parliamentary henchman, Volker Kauder, the head of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and the CSU in the German Bundestag. He was ousted by disgruntled coalition lawmakers

Merkel's grand coalition has come close to collapse over migration issues and a scandal involving the country's spy chief. Before the Bavarian polls infighting broke out over accusations the Christian Social Union was pandering to the far-right.

Sunday's election is likely to have far-reaching consequences by prompting major reassessments by all the government parties about the viability of a coalition that's doing none of them any electoral good.

Monday Social Democrat Party Vice Chairman Ralf Stegner tweeted, "There's no reason to hang on to the grand coalition at any price." He added that the Bavarian outcome showed the coalition's "stability is dwindling."

A third of SPD members were against joining Merkel's coalition in the first place after last year's federal elections. An exit poll in Bavaria indicated 76 percent of SPD voters say the party should quit the coalition.

Later this month, Merkel's party will face another challenge with a regional election in the state of Hesse, where her party heads the government. Opinion polls there suggest the party could see its share of the vote reduced by a quarter.