Merkel’s Heir Bolsters Bid for Chancellorship With State Win

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Armin Laschet boosted his chances of succeeding Angela Merkel as German chancellor by helping secure a decisive victory for his Christian Democratic Union in the country’s poorest state.

In the final regional contest before the national vote in September, the 60-year-old party leader showed he can successfully guide Merkel’s party in a tight campaign. The outcome will help ease doubts about his suitability to lead Germany’s conservatives and take on the job of running Europe’s biggest economy.

Merkel’s Heir Bolsters Bid for Chancellorship With State Win

The CDU halted its slide in recent elections on Sunday, winning 37% of the ballots in Saxony-Anhalt, up more than seven percentage points compared to the last vote in 2016, according to preliminary results. The far-right Alternative for Germany, which was pushing for the lead in some recent polls, dropped more than three points to end up a distant second in the former communist region with 21%.

“The national CDU under Armin Laschet now has the momentum on its side,” said Holger Schmieding, the London-based chief economist at Berenberg. “The concern that Laschet maybe a hindrance rather than a help should be deflated.”

Laschet’s Chances of Succeeding Merkel Rise to 63.5%: Bookmakers

In the run-up to the vote, Laschet appealed to the state’s mainstream voters to back the CDU, saying it was important to defend democracy from the anti-immigrant AfD. But most of the credit goes to Reiner Haseloff.

The state’s two-term premier was a reassuring presence throughout the coronavirus pandemic and won support as a national advocate for the former East -- still less affluent than the West three decades after re-unification.

Haseloff, who had supported Laschet’s rival Markus Soeder to be the bloc’s candidate for chancellor, credited the win to his own track record as well as support from Laschet and other high-profile CDU officials in the campaign.

When conservatives are united, “they’re unbeatable and will provide the next chancellor,” he said in an interview on ARD television on Monday before heading to Berlin for talks with Laschet and other national party leaders.

Results at a Glance
2021 Preliminary Results2016 Results
CDU37%30%
AfD21%24%
Left11%16%
SPD8.4%11%
FDP6.4%4.9%
Greens5.9%5.2%

Laschet became the leader of Merkel’s CDU in January and stumbled out of the gate, with the party suffering its worst-ever results in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in March.

That set up a messy power struggle in April with Soeder, head of the Bavarian CSU sister party. While Laschet prevailed, he emerged with his reputation bruised.

After Sunday’s result, Laschet can turn with renewed confidence to tackling the Greens and their candidate Annalena Baerbock, his main rival to lead Germany.

Merkel’s Heir Bolsters Bid for Chancellorship With State Win

The environmental party’s momentum has stalled in recent weeks, and the trend was underscored by a smaller-than-expected gain in Saxony-Anhalt, which could cost the party its role in the state’s government.

“We gained but not as much as we’d hoped,” Baerbock, the 40-year-old co-leader of the Greens, said on ARD.

Saxony-Anhalt in Brief
  • The former communist region is last among Germany’s 16 states in GDP per capita with 28,880 euros, less than half the level of top-ranked Hamburg
  • Located between Berlin and Hanover, it also has the oldest population of any state with an average age of 47.9 years
  • Its two biggest cities are the capital Magdeburg and Halle, each with less than 240,000 residents. In total, the state has a population of 2.2 million
  • Historical highlights: birthplace of the Reformation and home to the Bauhaus movement

Germany’s political establishment, meanwhile, can breathe a sigh of relief. A victory by the AfD would have been the right-wing party’s first on the state level, triggering complex political maneuvering to keep them out of the regional government.

Instead, Haseloff has a range of choices to form a coalition for his third term. His current government consists of a three-way alliance with the Social Democrats and the Greens. He could replace the Greens with the pro-business FDP, which has also been gaining support nationally, or govern with the SPD alone with a razor-thin majority.

“If the AfD had become the strongest force, it would have been catastrophic,” he said on ARD.

“This is really the message I want to take with me to Berlin,” he added. “That what has been possible in Saxony-Anhalt is also possible for the whole of Germany.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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