Germans in the small western state of Saarland vote on Sunday in a regional election that could deliver an upset to Chancellor Angela Merkel.
It is also being seen as a test of what has come to be known as the “Schulz effect” – the revitalisation of the Social Democrats under their new leader Martin Schulz.
If it is so small, why is the election important?
It is significant because it is the first of three regional votes ahead of the federal elections in Germany on September 24.
It is an opportunity for parties to build – or lose – momentum in their quest to prevail at national level.
The vote is also the first electoral test for the “Schulz effect” – the re-energised Social Democrats under their new leader, Martin Schulz.
The former president of the European Parliament has been a shot-in-the-arm for the centre-left SPD. His promise to tackle inequality is resonating with many voters tired of Merkel.
What Merkel is saying
“This time, every vote really counts”, the Chancellor told a rally in Sankt Wendel near Germany’s border with France and Luxembourg on Thursday.
“Take my words seriously.”
What Schulz is saying
Schulz is trying to win over dissatisfied working class voters with a message of social justice.
The SPD, Linke and Greens have discussed refraining from attacking each other during the national campaign.
Keen to maximise SPD support, Schulz is wary of talking about coalition formations before the state and federal elections.
“The same applies in Saarland as at the federal level: we want to be the strongest party,” Schulz told weekly newspaper Bild am Sonntag. “Whoever then wants to govern with us is very welcome to come to us.”
SPD Parteivorstand (@spdde) 26 mars 2017
What is Saarland’s current government like?
Like federal Germany, Saarland is currently governed by a ‘grand coalition’ of Merkel’s conservatives (CDU) and the SPD.
However, polls suggest a left-leaning ‘red-red-green’ alliance of the SPD, the far-left Linke party and the environmentalist Greens could emerge.
If the Greens fail to win enough votes, a ‘red-red’ coalition could emerge.
What are the political analysts saying?
A three-way leftist alliance in Saarland would be the third to be elected at state level after Berlin and the eastern region of Thuringia.
It could give impetus to a similar format at national level.
What are the polls saying?
One opinion poll released last week showed support for the SPD and the conservatives was even, at 32% nationally.
However, the Deutschland trend poll also showed 44% of voters wanted the SPD to lead.