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German regional vote tests public mood amid energy woes


FRANKFURT: Germans in the coastal state of Lower Saxony vote in a closely watched regional election on Sunday, seen as a key test for the Chancellor Olaf Scholz‘S Social Democratic Party in the midst of an acute energy crisis.
Polls open at 8:00 a.m. (0600 GMT) and end at 18:00, with the latest surveys putting Scholz’s centre-left SPD slightly ahead of the former prime minister’s conservative CDU party Angela Merkel.
Worries about soaring energy bills have dominated the race in the northwest on the North Sea, providing an overall picture of the national mood as Europe’s top economy grapples with carpeting. from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Popular Prime Minister of Lower Saxony Stephan Weil from the SPD, which tracks a third term, said the run was “the hardest of my life”.
He told WirtschaftsWoche magazine: “Never have I seen so many question marks and worries on people’s faces.
Weil, 63, has seen himself as a safe hand in uncertain times and wants Lower Saxony, home to auto giant Volkswagen as well as most of Germany’s wind turbines, to play a role. leading in the green energy transition.
He also welcomed the newly announced 200 billion euro ($198 billion) energy fund by Scholz to protect German consumers from price shocks.
Weil’s main rival, State Economy Minister Bernd Althusmann from CDU, says the massive package of support lacks clarity. He accused the federal government of acting slowly as recession fears grew.
The 55-year-old challenger saw Sunday’s vote as a verdict on Scholz’s coalition government in Berlin of the SPD, the Green Party and the liberal FDP.
He told the Rheinische Post: “If the CDU becomes the strongest party in Lower Saxony, which is true, it will be a serious blow to the already divided federal government.
Opinion polls show the SPD at 31-33 percent in Lower Saxony, followed by the CDU at 27-28 percent. The gap has widened in recent days.
A win would be the impetus for Scholz’s SPD after it lost to CDU in the last two state polls, in North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein.
The Greens are expected to win about 16% of the vote, which would be their best result given the 6.1 million voter base.
The far-right AfD is voting at around 11%, almost double what it recorded in 2017.
The FDP meanwhile is hovering at 5%, the threshold required for regional parliamentary participation.
One of the main contradictions between the leading candidates is the fate of the Emsland nuclear power plant in Lower Saxony, one of only three still in operation in Germany.
Althusmann responded angrily to Berlin’s decision to proceed with the scheduled shutdown of Emsland this year, despite the need to diversify as the country moves away from its gas and oil. Russia.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, a traditionally anti-nuclear Greens, recently announced that the remaining two plants will be kept on standby until April 2023, in a landmark turn turn.
Weil has backed Berlin’s stance, saying Emsland is not needed to guarantee Lower Saxony’s energy supply – although he acknowledges that other regions could struggle with colder winter weather.
Weil and Althusmann have praised the central role of the state in reducing Russia’s dependence on energy, pointing to the construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminals at the ports of Stade and Wilhelmshaven.
Although the SPD and CDU currently rule in Lower Saxony, Weil has ruled out a repeat of the left-right alliance.

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