Yesterday's regional election results throw the CDU's future into question
Angela Merkel’s sixteen year run as Germany’s Chancellor comes to an end later this year. It was, however, assumed that her legacy would continue — with her designated successor, Armin Laschet, leading the Christian Democratic Union to a fifth successive election victory in September’s general election. But after a pair of regional elections yesterday, that’s looking uncertain.
The CDU did badly in both regions. Only a few weeks ago, the party had hopes of winning back Baden-Württemberg from the Greens and Rhineland-Palatinate from the Social Democrats. Instead they went backwards. In Baden-Württemberg, they got less than a quarter of the votes — a region where they once had the support of more than half the electorate.
This time round, the CDU’s poor performance can’t be blamed on a populist surge. Indeed, the hard Right AfD party lost even more votes than the CDU. It’s also worth pointing out that the Social Democrat vote was also down, slightly, in both regions. Instead the main beneficiaries were the Greens plus a couple of liberal parties.
If this pattern holds across the country in the months ahead, then the CDU could find itself out of power nationally — and replaced by a ‘traffic lights coalition’ made up of the Social Democrats (red), the liberal Free Democrats (yellow) and Greens (er, green). With the Greens regularly polling ahead of the Social Democrats, this would give Germany its first Green Chancellor.
And there’s another intriguing scenario — which is that the CDU will not choose the lacklustre Laschet at its candidate for Chancellor, but instead turn to the Minister-President of Bavaria, Markus Söder.
Strictly speaking, Söder is the leader of a different party — the Christian Social Union, which is somewhat more conservative than Merkel’s party. However, because the CSU is a Bavaria-only party it operates in permanent alliance with the CDU — uniting around a joint candidate for Chancellor in national elections. Usually, that candidate is from the CDU, but occasionally the tail wags the dog and a CSU politician is proposed.
Even before yesterday’s dismal results for the CDU, Söder was clearly and embarrassingly more popular than Laschet. Now the pressure on the CDU/CSU alliance to go Bavarian will ramp up. This would be the second time that Merkel has botched the succession (her first pick, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was not a success).
Söder is very much not a Merkel Mini-me. This is the guy who ordered Christian crosses to be displayed in all public buildings in Bavaria — ostensibly as ‘cultural’ rather than religious emblems. More recently, though, he’s been cultivating a more centrist image — as if preparing to move from the Bavarian to the national stage.
If he succeeds, then it’s almost certain that the next elected Chancellor of Germany will be neither a Christian Democrat nor a Social Democrat — for the first time since, well, quite a long time ago.