Germany: Merkel’s CDU in crisis after setback in regional polls | News from Angela Merkel

The CDU, the party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, suffered record defeats in two regional votes on Sunday amid anger over a confused response to the coronavirus, including a face mask purchase scandal and deployment slow vaccines.

Sunday’s rout in the southwestern states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate raised questions about the CDU’s chances in the September 26 general election, when the Germans will choose a successor to Merkel.

“It cannot go on like this,” said the weekly Der Spiegel, adding that Merkel’s house was “on fire”.

In the automotive hub of southwest Baden-Württemberg, the Greens won 31.4% of the vote and the CDU 23.4%, according to projections based on the early results of broadcaster ZDF.

In neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate, the left-wing Social Democrats (SPD) came out on top with 35.5% of the vote ahead of the CDU, which led in opinion polls until last month but failed got only 26.9% support in Sunday’s election.

The results were the worst for the CDU in Germany after WWII in both states.

“It’s not a good election night for the CDU,” Paul Ziemiak, the party’s general secretary, told reporters after the results of the exit poll.

Green Party faction leader Andreas Schwarz and Baden-Württemberg state parliament speaker Muhterem Aras clench their fists on federal election day in Stuttgart, Germany, March 14, 2021 [Andreas Gebert/ Reuters]

The Greens were jubilant.

“It’s a great start to the great election year,” said Robert Habeck, co-leader of the Greens, suggesting that the result bodes well for a national election year.

“Much is possible”

In addition to fears of a potential third wave of coronavirus, CDU officials fear the party’s reputation has been damaged in the past two weeks when several Tory lawmakers resigned over allegations they received payments for organizing public contracts.

The CDU saw its domestic popularity decline by 40% last June, when Germany was widely praised for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, to around 33% this month.

SPD candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz said Sunday’s results showed that a national government without the CDU and its Bavarian sister party CSU might be possible after the September vote.

“A lot of things are possible,” he told broadcaster ARD.

German Social Democratic Party (SPD) candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks during a two-day party meeting in Berlin, Germany, February 7, 2021 [File: Tobias Schwarz/Pool via REUTERS]

The two regional election results pave the way for possible regional alliances of the Greens, the SPD and the Free Liberal Democrats (FDP), who had already ruled in Rhineland-Palatinate before Sunday’s elections.

CDU leaders fear that the same constellation of parties will gain enough support to leave their party in opposition nationally in the federal vote in September.

Markus Blume, CSU general secretary, called Sunday’s beating a “wake-up call” for the CDU / CSU.

If Germany’s biggest bloc is to stay in power when Merkel steps down after 16 years, it urgently needs to “regain confidence,” he said.

“We need clear decisions and a clear trajectory in the fight against the coronavirus,” he added.

‘Strike now’

The first order of business should be deciding the bloc’s candidate for chancellor, media outlet Spiegel said.

New CDU chief Armin Laschet is the obvious choice but lacks broad support.

Critics say he has failed to carve a political profile beyond portraying continuity in the post-Merkel era.

Laschet must “break free from Merkel’s shadow” and “say what the party stands for,” Andreas Roedder, historian at the University of Mainz and member of the CDU, told the daily Bild.

Opinion polls suggest the Germans would rather see the popular Bavarian Prime Minister and CSU leader Markus Soeder in the high-level post, but he has yet to declare his willingness to run.

If Soeder has any real ambition to be chancellor, “he must strike now,” the financial daily Handelsblatt said.

No German chancellor has ever come from the CSU. Soeder and Laschet want to settle the question of the candidacy before May 23.

The Tories’ woes come as Germany braces for a third wave of COVID-19, even with a gradual reopening of schools and non-essential stores.

The latest forecast from the country’s Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases projects that by mid-April, new infections could exceed the peak seen in December, when some 30,000 cases were reported each day.

Merkel and the prime ministers of Germany’s 16 federal states will discuss the next steps in the fight against the pandemic on March 22.

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