German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s political party has suffered heavy losses in two key regional votes seen as major tests ahead of September’s general election.
Early results showed the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) suffering their worst-ever results in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate.
Historically, the party enjoyed strong support in these western states.The party’s poor performance is widely blamed on public anger at government on its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mrs Merkel is due to step down as German chancellor in September, after 16 years in office and theis early defeat is the first major test for Armin Laschet, who was elected CDU leader in January.
Laschet is however not guaranteed to be the party’s candidate for chancellor in the election on 26 September, because his rival for the role is Markus Söder, leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party the CSU. Though the party aims to have the matter settled by late May.
Germany is a federal state made up of 16 regions. Under this system, there are elections to regional legislatures as well as those to the national parliament, called the Bundestag.
In Baden-Württemberg the Green Party is predicted to hang on to power with about 32% of the vote, with the CDU getting 24%, less than at the previous poll in 2016.
In neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) are projected to retain power with about 35%.
Both results pave the way for regional alliances between the Greens, the SPD and the liberal Free Democrats. This raises the prospect of a similar coalition forming a federal, or national, government after the general election in September.
Angela Merkel’s CDU did not expect to do this badly. Now, alarm bells are ringing in Berlin.
Party leaders know they are going into September’s general election without their greatest asset – Chancellor Merkel herself. Her popularity remains high, but there is increasing dissatisfaction with her government’s handling of the pandemic.
The corruption scandal that forced the resignation of three party politicians has not helped. Some fear that the CDU, which just a year ago was predicted to win a comfortable majority and form a coalition – could even be driven from the federal government in the autumn.