22nd Mar 2023

Merkel party chiefs support Laschet's chancellor bid

  • CDU party chief Armin Laschet with fellow party member, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (Photo: European Commission)

The top brass of Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party has signaled its support for party chairman Armin Laschet as its candidate for chancellor in September's general election.

While the leader of CDU's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), Markus Söder threw his hat in the race on Sunday (11 April) to replace chancellor Angela Merkel, the CDU's choice is likely to be decisive.

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  • CSU leader and Bavarian premier Markus Söder (r) with former EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (Photo: European Commission)

But the CDU governing executive committee decision on Monday (12 April) to back Laschet could open up a potential clash with Söder, Bavaria's premier, and the CSU itself.

Volker Bouffier, the state premier of Hesse, said the CDU's executive had unanimously backed Laschet on Monday, but no formal decision has been taken.

German media reported that the final decision could come in the next week.

Finding a candidate to fill Merkel's shoes, who has been able to hold onto power for 16 years by absorbing the policies of her party's competitors, is proving to be challenging, with the CDU under pressure in the polls.

The choice has also exposed unresolved questions for the CDU on how the party that has dominated politics in Germany since the second world war wants to move forward in the post-Merkel era.

Polls show Söder is ahead of Laschet among the general public, and the party alliance could have a better chance of winning the elections with him as a candidate.

In a survey from early April by ARD public broadcaster, only 19 percent of Germans believed Laschet would be a good CDU-CSU candidate, with 54 percent saying Söder would be a good candidate.

Söder has said he would accept the CDU's pick for a candidate but it remains to be seen if his party, the CSU will agree to Laschet as their joint candidate. The CSU top leaders are meeting later on Monday.

The CDU and CSU traditionally put forward a joint candidate at elections, usually the CDU leader.

However, since Laschet was elected CDU chief in January, the party's support has decreased in the polls.

Söder meanwhile has argued that the joint candidate should be the one with the best chance of winning elections in September.

Pandemic fallout

Voters have blamed the CDU for the slow roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccines, and are irked by the federal government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Laschet, trying to define his own image as CDU leader, got into a spat with Merkel over Covid-19 lockdown measures, and defended his region's relaxed interpretation of national measures.

On the other, Söder aligned himself with the chancellor and backed tougher lockdown measures as the third wave hit Germany.

Last month the CDU saw its worst-ever results in elections in the two states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate.

As parties try to pick up momentum ahead of the September election, the CDU's bad performance is a worrying omen for the centre-right bloc.

The CDU has lost almost 10 percentage points in the polls since the beginning of the year, and now stands at 27 percent, while the Green party is closing in, polling currently at 22 percent.

The CDU and CSU were also hurt by revelations that some of its MPs pocketed commissions from the procurement of face masks during the pandemic, and several Bundestag members needed to step down.

The CDU state parties want a quick decision on the joint candidate in order to start campaigning as soon as possible rather than get bogged down by internal struggles.

Only two German general elections have featured a CSU chancellor candidate before - both unsuccessfully.

In 1980, the CSU's Franz Josef Strauss failed to unseat Helmut Schmidt's coalition government, and in 2002, CSU candidate Edmund Stoiber did not succeed in unseating chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

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