Two tough defeats of her coalition cloud the beginning of Angela Merkel’s dismissal from power

PARIS.- Chancellor Angela Merkel’s German Conservatives suffered a historic setback today in two regional votes, considered true tests for the federal legislative elections next September.

Fragile by mistakes made in managing the pandemic and a complicated financial scandal, The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was heading towards its worst electoral result last night in the regional states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, in the southwest of the country. The Chancellor’s party would not obtain more than 23.3% of the votes in the first land, against 27% five years ago. In the second, it would reach 23.3% against 31.8% in 2016.

“Dark hours” for the CDU, he titled the newspaper The world, while the weekly The mirror evoked a “Electoral catastrophe”.

True, the Conservatives were not the favorites in those two lander led respectively by the Greens and the SPD Social Democrats. But This very bad result represents a very bad omen for the legislatures of September 26. The wave of revelations surrounding the so-called “chinstrap scandal” and growing criticism of the management of the health crisis weakened Merkel’s party considerably.

“The CDU is going through its worst crisis” since the black box scandal that brought down former Chancellor Helmut Khol in the late 1990s, estimated Jean-Dominique Juliani, President of the Robert Schuman Foundation.

This time, it is mainly about suspicions of commissions received at the beginning of the epidemic by party deputies for contracts to purchase chinstraps, which clouds the image of the government majority.

At the moment, Markus Söder, leader of the Bavarian CSU outperforms Armin Laschet, representative of the CDU, a conservative party to which Merkel belongs.Reuters

“That scandal weighed heavily on today’s results”, acknowledged last night the CDU Secretary General Paul Ziemiak, which promised “zero tolerance” for the misappropriations of those “who get rich during the crisis.”

On the contrary, the Greens, who hope to enter the federal government in the next legislative elections, congratulated themselves for the “super start” of the electoral sequence – which will include the renewal of six regional governments – marked by a broad victory in the land of Baden -Wurtemberg (probably 31% of the votes), which they have led for a decade. In this prosperous region, the heart of the auto industry, the popular environmentalist Winfried Kretschann (72 years old) is earning more and more points.

The coalition with the CDU who has been running Kretschann for five years It is perceived as the laboratory of an eventual national alliance between both parties after the federal elections.. Today’s broad victory allows them to negotiate a new regional alliance either again with the CDU, with the Social Democrats or with the Liberals of the FPD, who would have obtained around 11%. And even think of a formula that includes three parties.

In the Land of Rhineland-Palatinate, the CDU came far behind the outgoing leader, the leader of the local Social Democracy, Malu Dreyer (between 33% and 35%).

Nor does the pandemic appear to have benefited the extreme right of Alternative for Germany (AfD), which fell more than 4% in both lander.

Today's failure affects the ideals of Armin Laschet, recently elected to the head of the CDU, who must convince party affiliates that he is the best conservative candidate for the chancellery.
Today’s failure affects the ideals of Armin Laschet, recently elected to the head of the CDU, who must convince party affiliates that he is the best conservative candidate for the chancellery.Federico Gambarini

These results undoubtedly represent a great disappointment for the German Chancellor. After 16 years in power and an intact popular confidence –Despite some temporary stumbling blocks– Angela Merkel hoped to leave a solidly located party to face the next elections. After leading the polls a year ago with 40% favorable opinions, the CDU and its Bavarian ally, the CSU, recently fell to 33% of voting intentions, the level they had before the pandemic.

Two of your deputies, Georg Nüsslein (CSU) and Nikolas Löbel (CDU), had to leave their respective parties, suspected of having enriched themselves thanks to the epidemic, serving as intermediaries with manufacturers in the official purchase of anti-Covid chinstraps. Another conservative deputy resigned on Thursday after being criticized for the publication of advertisements from Azerbaijan – a country rich in hydrocarbons and caviar, but far from being a model of respect for human rights – in a national newspaper that he himself directs.

This defeat weighs heavily on Armin Laschet’s ambitions, recently elected to the head of the CDU, that he must convince his affiliates that he is the best conservative candidate for chancery. For the moment, Bavarian CSU leader Markus Söder outperforms him in polls. Questioned at the end of February by the Kantar institute, 50% of those polled considered him the best of the candidates to replace Merkel, against 24% in favor of Laschet.

The “mask scandal” weighs on millions of Germans, who a year after the start of the pandemic are fed up with restrictions and increasingly doubt the strategy chosen by the government.

The difficulties of supplying vaccines against Covid-19, which suffers not only Germany but the entire European Union (EU), added to the recent increase in contamination caused by new variants of the virus, accentuate discontent. At the same time, health authorities no longer hide their concern about what they consider “the beginning of a third wave” of the pandemic.

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