Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) suffered stinging defeats in two state elections on Sunday, presenting Angela Merkel’s party with a major setback just months before the country chooses her successor as chancellor.
According to initial projections by public broadcaster ARD, the conservative party posted its worst-ever results in both Baden-Württemberg, with about 24 percent of the vote, and in Rhineland-Palatinate, with 26 percent.
The CDU and its Bavarian CSU sister party have been hit in recent days by corruption allegations leveled at its lawmakers, who have been accused of profiting from public contracts for face masks and questionable ties to Azerbaijan.
The results in the two western states dealt a blow to new CDU leader Armin Laschet’s chances of securing the nod to be the center-right candidate to succeed Merkel, who plans to end her 16-year tenure after a general election in September.
The Green Party came in first in Baden-Württemberg, holding steady compared to the last election in 2016 with about 32 percent of the vote. The CDU’s score in the state represented a drop of around three percentage points.
In Rhineland-Palatinate, the Social Democrats maintained first place with about 34.5 percent of the vote, while the CDU lost some six percentage points compared to the last election in 2016.
In national polls, the CDU/CSU still enjoys a big lead over all other parties, meaning whoever becomes the alliance’s candidate for chancellor stands a very strong chance of taking over from Merkel. CSU leader Markus Söder, the premier of Bavaria, is widely seen as Laschet’s main rival for the nomination.
According to the polls, a coalition between the CDU/CSU and the Greens looks most likely at the moment to succeed the current national government of CDU/CSU and Social Democrats.
However, the center-right bloc has seen its support decline significantly in recent weeks, due to the corruption scandals and growing dissatisfaction with government handling of coronavirus lockdowns and vaccination. If that trend continues, other coalition possibilities become more likely, which could dump the CDU/CSU out of power.
The winning parties in Sunday’s elections were helped by having popular incumbent state premiers — Winfried Kretschmann of the Greens in Baden-Württemberg and Social Democrat Malu Dreyer in Rhineland-Palatinate.
CDU veteran Wolfgang Schäuble, the president of the Bundestag, suggested the results had more to do with those personalities than the shortcomings of his party.
“For the CDU it is not a nice evening, but that was predictable,” he told ARD television. “In this election, the personalities of the state premiers are by far the most important factor.”
According to the projections, Kretschmann could continue to run a Green-led coalition with the CDU in Baden-Württemberg or try to form a three-way coalition of Greens, Social Democrats and liberal Free Democrats. That combination is known as a traffic light coalition, due to the official colors of the three parties involved.
In Rhineland-Palatinate, Dreyer looks likely to continue a Social Democrat-led traffic light coalition, which has run the state since the last election in 2016.
This article has been updated.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WCT staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)