Germany state elections

Record losses show Germany’s CDU in trouble ahead of Merkel’s departure

Armin Laschet was chosen as leader of the CDU in January.
Armin Laschet was chosen as leader of the CDU in January. AFP - MICHAEL SOHN

The leader of Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU said the party must improve management of the coronavirus crisis, the day after the party’s worst results in two former strongholds and with six months before the country chooses a new chancellor.


With most votes counted in two key state elections, the party garnered only 24 percent of the turnout in the south-western state of Baden Württemberg – far behind the victorious Greens, while in the western region of Rhineland-Palatinate, the centre-left SPD won convincingly.

Der Spiegel on Monday said Merkel’s house was on fire.

She announced in 2018 that she would not stand for a fifth term as chancellor after 16 years in power.

Armin Laschet, chosen in January to be party leader, was widely expected to be the candidate for the centre-right but after Sunday night’s poor showing, that now seems less likely.

There is talk of Markus Söeder, the popular leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party the CSU, standing for the centre-right instead.

What happened?

Polls suggest there were two main reasons for the party’s poor performance.

A spate of allegations of corruption involving CDU politicians surrounding contracts for the procurement of personal protective equipment to combat the coronavirus annoyed many voters.

The party was also punished for perceived incompetence, it seems.

The CDU-led government has been criticised for its handling of the Covid-19 crisis in recent months after a relatively solid start.

Health minister Jens Spahn has been berated for the slow vaccination programme and the botched roll-out of rapid Covid-19 tests. Germany is bracing itself for a third wave of the virus.

Meanwhile, delays in getting financial aid to companies struggling to stay afloat amid Covid-19 restrictions were laid at the door of the economy minister Peter Altmaier.

The CDU candidates also struggled to make an impact in a campaign amid Covid-19 restrictions against some very well-known local faces.

Shifting patterns

While yesterday’s results do not necessarily presage disaster for the CDU in September’s countrywide elections, it is another sign that politics in Germany is shifting.

Douglas Webber, a specialist in German politics and author of European Disintegration? The Politics of Crisis in the European Union", observes that in general, the CDU is losing ground as German politics becomes more fragmented.

The long-term trend is for such large “big-tent parties” to decline and he notes that the CDU is simply catching up with a movement which hit the SPD earlier and harder.

The Greens have been the biggest beneficiaries as well as the rightwing populist AfD, especially in the formerly communist east of the country.

However, the AfD did not do well in Sunday's vote and Webber suggests the increased respect for science amid the Covid-19 crisis has caused voters to treat them with greater suspicion.


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