Angela Merkel’s party has slumped to historic lows in two former stronghold regions at state elections, in a sign that the tide may be turning against Germany’s conservatives just as the country gears up for a national vote in six months’ time.
The incumbent Green premier of Baden-Württemberg and the Social Democrat leader of Rhineland-Palatinate both look certain to retain their offices in the two south-western states, after exit polls showed significant losses for the second-placed Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on Sunday.
In wealthy Baden-Württemberg, where the CDU governed uninterruptedly until 2011, the conservatives may even no longer hold on to their place as junior coalition partner.
The Green premier, Winfried Kretschmann, could have the choice of either holding on to the current power-sharing deal with a weakened conservative party or entering a “traffic light” coalition with the Social Democratic party (SPD) and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) in the home state of the carmakers Daimler and Porsche.
The same coalition arrangement is likely to stay in place for another term in Rhineland-Palatinate, where the premier, Malu Dreyer, managed to gain an impressive 35.7% of the vote in spite of her centre-left party’s struggle to maintain a profile as Merkel’s junior partner at a national level.
With a federal election looming on 26 September, the outcome in the two states will give a boost to the Green party, which is in second place behind the CDU in national polls and managed to increase its share of the vote by two to three percentage points in both states.
Through its only state premier in Kretschmann, the environmentalist party has shown it can be pragmatic and successful in government, rather than just rallying for change from the opposition benches.
The far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) could not capitalise on being the only party to outright oppose the government’s lockdown course at a national level, and lost votes in both states.
The anti-immigration party remains in third place with about 10% of the vote in both Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, however, in spite of being recently put under nationwide surveillance by the country’s domestic intelligence agency.
The vote is the first test of the leadership qualities of new CDU leader, Armin Laschet, who has been in his post for under two months but hopes to run as his party’s candidate for the chancellorship in September.
A sluggish vaccination rollout overseen by CDU ministers and a corruption scandal over kickbacks in mask procurement deals is likely to be blamed for the poor performance, but Laschet will face an uphill struggle convincing his conservative colleagues he has the necessary authority to improve his party’s battered image on the campaign trail.