Germany's anti-nuclear Greens on Sunday scored a remarkable victory over chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party in a state election that had turned into a referendum on nuclear power in the wake of Japan's Fukushima disaster.
The Greens doubled their voter share in wealthy Baden-Wuerttemberg state and seemed poised to oust Merkel's Christian Democrats who held power there for almost six decades, according to preliminary results released by the state electoral commission.
This is personal. I was born and raised in Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg. I was in high school when the Greens first got over 5% of the vote and made it into the state parliament (Landtag) in 1980. My political science teacher at the time, Winfried Herrman, got voted into the Landtag as a member of the Green Party from 1984-88 and is currently a member of the Green Party faction in the German Bundestag (parliament).
But it's been 58 years, longer than I've been alive, since the conservative CDU was not in power in Baden-Württemberg. You know, sort of like Republicans in power for 58 years, though admittedly not as crazy.
Regardless, I never thought I would see this day.
The Greens secured 24.2 percent of the vote, with the center-left Social Democrats down 2 percentage points at 23.1 percent. That secures them a narrow lead to form a coalition government with a combined 71 seats in the state legislature, the results showed.
What's most amazing is not only that the Greens got 24.2 percent of the vote in this most conservative of conservative states, but that they got more votes than the Social Democrats (which will be their coalition partner), effectively making the Green Party's Winfried Kretschmann the new Prime Minister (Ministerpräsident) of Baden-Württemberg.
"We have secured what amounts to a historic electoral victory," the Greens' local leader Winfried Kretschmann told party members in Stuttgart.
Yes, Fukushima had something to do with it. We've got one of the oldest and creakiest (for German standards) nuclear plants in Neckarwestheim, less than 100 kilometers from Stuttgart. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, the day after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, there was a 45km long protestof the plant, something that had been planned long before the events in Japan but took on quite a symbolic significance considering the timing.
Nuclear Plant in Neckarwestheim
But it wasn't just about nuclear power. There is a very controversial railway project called Stuttgart 21, a four billion Euro mega makeover, one of Germany's and Europe's largest urban renewal projects that a lot of the more naturally cautious Swabians were quite skeptical about and that the Greens oppose.
I'd also like to think that people are just generally realizing that we need big change, and the Green Party may be the closest to a legitimate institution to lead us through it. I don't think it's a revolution, and people, especially Swabians, are very reality based and not prone to blow things out of proportion.
But let me just say: This is HUGE!
Even though I'm thousands of miles away, tonight I'm celebrating with my people. Well done. Go Greens. Go Winnie! I'm pounding a beer, then I gotta run.