Voters in two western German states go to the polls today in elections that could spell the beginning of the end of the country’s grand coalition. Hesse state premier Roland Koch is one of the most polarising leaders of his generation in the right-wing Christian Democrats. He won the last two elections by playing on subtle anti-foreign sentiment, but similar tactics risk backfiring this time.
When a retired teacher was recently beaten up by two immigrant youths after asking them to stop smoking on the subway, Koch called for boot camps and for immigrant criminals to be deported. Critics say his comments reveal he is xenophobic. The latest polls showed he was running neck and neck with Social Democrat party candidate Andrea Ypsilanti.
She says Koch’s decision to target crimes committed by foreigners has set politicians and communities against each other. As disquiet grows within the CDU over the centrist drift of Merkel’s grand coalition, defeat for one of the right’s leading lights could turn into a major headache for the Chancellor ahead of federal elections next year.