Long-serving Luxembourg Prime Minister faces tough polls test
Voters in Luxembourg went to the polls on Sunday as Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, Europe's longest-serving leader, faced his toughest election yet after 18 years at the helm. The snap legislative elections in the European Union's wealthiest nation per capita follow a scandal over misconduct by the secret service that fractured the coalition government headed by Juncker's Christian Social People's Party (CSV).
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013
Its junior Socialist Party (LSAP) partners withheld support when opponents accused the premier of having been too busy steering the euro currency through crisis - in his capacity as head of the Eurogroup - to get his dysfunctional intelligence service back on track.
Misdemeanours by the SREL secret service, which the premier is supposed to oversee, included illegal phone taps, corruption and even dodgy dealings in luxury cars. Polls opened at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) and are due to close at 2:00 pm as the Liberals and Greens appear poised to make enough gains to enable them to propose a new coalition with the Socialists.
The election takes place amid signs of voter weariness with Luxembourg's more familiar political faces. In addition, unemployment has risen to almost seven percent and debt has tripled in the last 15 years.
Aged 58, Juncker, who first became premier in 1995, has spent literally half his life in government. His CSV party has won every single election in Luxembourg since its establishment in 1944, bar one poll in 1974. But ahead of this vote, held seven months early, it is on tenterhooks.
Though Luxembourgers deem Juncker competent to continue to steer the state, surveys show a younger generation of politicians increasingly picking up support, notably 40-year-old Liberal Party chief Xavier Bettel. Also expected to make gains is Greens newcomer Francois Bausch, who for the past three years has run the Luxembourg town hall with Bettel.
Juncker is best known in Europe for a tumultuous eight-year stint as head of the eurozone finance ministers Eurogroup, which ended in January.
After being accused of obsessing over the troubles of the single currency instead of concentrating on the job at home, Juncker promised to refocus on Luxembourg. Bettel and Bausch have made no secret of their hopes of forming a coalition government without Juncker's party. But they would need the support of the Socialists.
"If it's possible to carry out, among three, real reforms aimed at modernising the state and giving it a new impetus, then yes, I'm in favour of a three-way coalition," said Socialist leader Etienne Schneider who has made no secret of wanting to become prime minister.
"Today I really want to become prime minister to give a new dynamic to the country and reform it from top to bottom," said the 42-year-old outgoing economy minister. On the campaign trail Juncker hammered home the message that a three-party coalition for Luxembourg - which would be the first of its kind - would undermine the nation.
Nine parties in all are running in the elections, from the extreme left-wing Dei Lenk to populist right-wing group ADR.