Angela Merkel’s CDU defeats far right in crucial German federal elections | Germany
Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) fended off a challenge from the far right in a state election on Sunday seen as the last big test for German political parties ahead of a nationwide vote in September that will put end of the 16 years of the Chancellor at the top of German politics.
In exit polls, the CDU, whose current leader Armin Laschet will vie for the top job in September, improved its performance in 2017 to secure 36% of the vote in Eastern state – a result that the Prime Minister of the State, Reiner Haseloff, declared “a clear demarcation against the extreme right”.
The nationalist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) came in second with 22.9% but underperformed in light of some polls which had suggested that the far right would challenge the CDU for first place.
The president of the Central Council of Jews of Germany, Josef Schuster, expressed his relief at the disappointing night of the AfD, calling the result a “victory for democracy”.
Governed for five years by a “Kenyan coalition” between the CDU, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens, Haseloff could, in the next legislature, switch to a power-sharing agreement with the SPD and the pro business Free Democratic Party (FDP) – known as the “German coalition” after the colors of the national flag – or “Jamaican” alliance with the FDP and the Greens.
After a sobering run of state election results this spring, Sunday’s result amounted to “almost something like a comeback” for Merkel’s Tories, Der Spiegel wrote. CDU Secretary General Paul Ziemiak called the result of Sunday’s vote a “sensational result”.
Laschet had ruled out any form of power-sharing deal with the AfD in the run-up to the vote, saying his party’s “firewall” against the far right would remain firm.
Home to 2.2 million people, the state elections of Saxony-Anhalt do not reflect the position of the six main parties in the country as a whole. Support for the AfD, for its part, is considerably higher and stable here than in other parts of Germany, despite its eastern branches pursuing more overtly xenophobic policies.
But like the last state election before the nationwide vote in September, the result will be eagerly scrutinized for clues to a broader underlying dynamic.
The attractiveness of the left-wing Die Linke party and the center-left SPD in this area of what was once part of the Socialist German Democratic Republic is indicative of a wider unease on the German left.
With 10.7% of the vote, Die Linke lost 5.6% of the vote compared to its 2016 results, its worst result in this eastern state since the party was founded in 2007. Support for the SPD has fallen. at 8.2%, one of the party’s worst results at a state election endpoint.
The Green Party, which consistently scores well in national polls, traditionally fights in eastern Germany and will be the weakest of the six parties in the next Land Parliament, with 6% of the vote. “We have improved our result,” said co-leader of the Greens and candidate for Chancellor Annalena Baerbock, “but not in the way we hoped”.
The Greens, who have even overtaken the CDU in some polls after Baerbock was unveiled as a candidate, have lost some momentum in recent weeks as other parties across the political spectrum have started focusing their fire on the green policies, such as a gradual increase in the price of fuel.
The Free Democratic Party, which is experiencing a nationwide resurgence fueled by frustration over the Merkel government’s handling of the pandemic, returned to the Saxony-Anhalt parliament with 6.5% of the vote, ahead of the threshold of 5% parliamentary representation.
The FDP, a traditional junior ally of the CDU which shares its aversion to household debt, is also experiencing renewed support at the national level. Party leader Christian Lindner said he interpreted the result as a vote in support of his party’s economic competence and suggested reforms in the areas of digitization and education.
The CDU’s strong performance in Saxony-Anhalt probably has a lot to do with personality: Haseloff, who was state prime minister here for a decade, enjoys an 81% approval rating.
It remains to be seen whether the glimmer of his success rubs off on Laschet. Haseloff was one of the voices in the Christian Democrat Party who spoke out against Laschet’s candidacy for the top post.