Merkel’s Party Vows to Fight Back After Historic Election Losses

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party vowed to battle for its role in Germany’s next government after suffering historic defeats in two former strongholds.

The Christian Democratic Union stumbled to its worst-ever results in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate on Sunday, while the Green party gained support as it positions itself to be the kingmaker after September’s national election.

“Vote results are always a wake-up call,” Armin Laschet, head of the conservative party, said Monday in Berlin, adding that work on a campaign platform would start later this month. “The CDU needs to say clearly where it wants to go, and now the process will gain speed and vigor.”

Sunday’s results are a sign of the long-term challenges facing the CDU once the chancellor steps aside after 16 years. With momentum shifting to the Greens and voters frustrated with the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Laschet -- elected in January after a drawn-out leadership contest -- needs to show he can lead Germany’s strongest political force into a tense campaign.

Internally, he’s come out combative, telling senior officials on Monday that the party needs to “fight” for the chancellorship, which “isn’t bestowed on them by god,” according to a person familiar with the exchange.

Merkel’s Party Vows to Fight Back After Historic Election Losses

An alliance between the CDU and the Greens remains the most likely outcome of the September national vote, but Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock is playing up the possibilities of an alternative coalition as well. A realistic chance of leaving out Merkel’s CDU-led bloc would give the Greens more leverage in negotiations.

“There are now many different parties that can be in government,” Baerbock said. “What is possible in the heartland of Germany’s industry can also be possible at a federal level.”

Laschet wants to run to replace Merkel but is hampered by his poor showing in the polls. His main rival for the conservative nomination -- Markus Soeder who heads the smaller Bavarian CSU sister party -- is one of the country’s most popular politicians. While the CDU typically provides the bloc’s candidate, the Bavarian premier has been making his case and could be bolstered by the poor results.

Laschet said Sunday’s election results will have no bearing on the decision, which will be made between Easter and late May.

The CDU chief -- also the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state -- is still likely to secure the nomination even though he’s been weakened, according to Berenberg Chief Economist Holger Schmieding.

The party elected Laschet after Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer stepped down following series of gaffes and flagging popularity. The Merkel protege served little more than a year in the role.

Merkel’s Party Vows to Fight Back After Historic Election Losses

Laschet said Sunday’s elections were chiefly decided by the popularity of local leaders, neither of which were from the CDU.

In Baden-Wuerttemberg, the Greens won 32.6%, a gain of 2.3 points, according to official preliminary results. The CDU’s support slumped by 2.9 points compared with the last election in 2016 to 24.1%.

In Rhineland-Palatinate, the CDU shed 4.1 points to 27.7%, while the Social Democrats defended their position as the state’s strongest party despite losing 0.5 points.

The CDU/CSU lead the Greens by about 12 percentage points in national polls, but those numbers mask a number of uncertainties as the parties look toward the national campaign.

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