Bavarians have cast their ballots one week ahead of national election that is expected to hand German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s allies nearly 50 percent of the vote.
Polls opened on Sunday with the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister-party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), tipped to prevail.
The vote could give Merkel a significant boost as she heads into the final week of campaigning for a third term at the helm of Europe’s top economic power.
Polls predict the CSU will get at least 47 percent, allowing it an absolute majority in the regional assembly in Munich and cheering conservatives nationwide.
Led by outspoken state premier Horst Seehofer, the CSU is well-placed to recapture the absolute majority in the regional parliament that it lost in 2008. That would allow it to drop its state coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), and govern alone.
Seehofer wants to put behind him the 2008 election, when the CSU scored its worst result in six decades, 43 percent.
That forced it into an alliance with the Free Democrats (FDP), who are also Merkel’s coalition partners in the national government. Despite assurances of promising results Seehofer warns against too much swagger ahead of the election given the high stakes.
“I advise everyone in my party not to get too cocky and to fight hard down to the wire,” he said.
Ahead of the vote, Merkel toured the state’s world-famous beer tents, favoured venues for Bavarian campaign rallies, to bolster the conservatives chances.
Bavaria is notably the region’s powerhouse in a country that has gone from strength to strength as the eurozone debt crisis ravaged its neighbours.
If Bavaria, home to industrial giants like BMW and Audi, were a country it would have the eurozone’s sixth largest population and economy, which allows it to exert pressure on national policy on issues ranging from energy and the family to the eurozone.
As the only state with a regional party in the federal parliament, the CSU has governed the rich southern state for 56 years, styling itself the natural ruler of a state that is proud of its “laptop and lederhosen” economy and traditions.
A strong win in Bavaria followed by a robust turnout for the national vote would not only secure Merkel’s win but increase CSU’s clout in a reloaded Merkel government, leading it to push more of its own projects.