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Pressure rises on CDU-CSU after worst election result since WWII


Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party chairman and candidate for the federal elections, Armin Laschet, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on September 26, 2021 in Berlin, Germany.

Getty Images London – One day after the election results showed that Angela Merkel’s conservative coalition had its worst showing ever since it was formed at the end World War II, Angela Merkel is already facing the consequences.| Getty Images News | Getty Images

LONDON – The reckoning has already begun for outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative alliance, a day after election results pointed to its worst ever showing since its formation at the end of World War II.

Pressure is mounting within the Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union bloc after preliminary results published Monday showed that the center-right alliance achieved 24.1% of the vote, compared to 25.7% for the center-left Social Democratic Party.

Although Armin Laschet has maintained that the CDU-CSU has the mandate to govern, the results suggest that a coalition government is necessary.

Having essentially ruled out forming another so-called “grand coalition” together, both the SPD and CDU-CSU are now preparing to court two smaller parties — the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats — with the aim of enticing them into a governing alliance.

The Greens and FDP, who now hold the title of “kingmakers”, are expected to meet together next week to discuss their positions before taking on the bigger parties.

Laschet acknowledged Monday that the party had not met his expectations. However, he expressed optimism about creating a coalition.

It is clear that the Union will not be satisfied with this outcome. While we managed to get ahead in the end and stopped red-red green, it was still difficult losses. “It wasn’t enough for first,” he said to party members.

Despite Laschet’s optimism, the soul-searching has already begun in Merkel’s CDU party with a clamor growing for Laschet to resign, German media widely reported Tuesday morning.

Criticism of Laschet had grown overnight, the Bild newspaper reported Tuesday, with leading CDU officials saying that the party should accept the will of the voters and concede victory to the SPD. German media voices concern that Laschet might be under threat of being forced to recant.

Bernd Althusmann from Lower Saxony was quoted by the newspaper as saying that “we now should humbly, respectfully accept and display decency and attitude the will of voters.” We needed to change.

Hesse’s Prime Minister Volker Buffier pointed out that the CDU-CSU does not have any claim to government accountability, while Tilman Kuban was quoted as saying that “we lost” the election. The truth is that it doesn’t matter. FDP, Greens and SPD hold the mandate.

Adding insult to injury, the Bild newspaper reported a survey by polling institute Forsa on Tuesday suggesting that the CDU-CSU union could have achieved 30% of the vote if Markus Söder (the head of the CSU) had been the bloc’s candidate for chancellor instead of Laschet.

The majority of Germans are opposed to the idea that Laschet could be given a mandate as a governemnt, and most agree with this.

According to an opinion poll by the Civey institute for the Augsburger Allgemeine daily, 71% of over 5,000 respondents oppose Laschet trying to become chancellor after the party’s poor performance. A poll was conducted over Sunday and Monday. Only 22% of Germans supported Laschet’s claim that they have the mandate to form a new government.

A bad trend

The latest blow for the CDU cannot all be blamed on Laschet, seen as a successor to Merkel but far from as well-liked as his predecessor, as the decline in the CDU’s share of the vote continues a trend seen in the last couple of elections.

It is a moment of weakness for the conservatives as they prepare for Merkel’s exit.

CDU only got 18.9% of votes in Sunday’s election, without its Bavarian sister party, the CSU. This is 7.9 percentage point less than the 2017 vote. Conversely, the SPD has seen its share of the vote rise 5.2 percentage points since 2017, as did the Greens and Free Democrats, official data from the Federal Returning Officer show.

Jeffrey Rathke, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, told CNBC Tuesday that while it was important not to write Laschet off just yet “all the bets now are on the Greens and the FDP trying to find a way to work with Olaf Scholz and the Social Democrats.”

Marco Willner from NN Investment Partners is the head of Investment Strategy. He stressed that talks on a coalition could take time.

It’s an unusual situation right now where the smaller, less experienced partners of this coalition are setting the stage and looking for the top partner. Although the SPD has the advantage here, it is only day two following the election and I anticipate this to continue for some time. Who knows where this will end up,” he said Tuesday to CNBC’s Squawkbox Europe.

What is the reason why CDU did so poorly?

There are several reasons why Merkel’s party is judged to have fared badly in this latest election, including the rise of a younger, more environmentally-conscious electorate to an increasing number of voters who want to see Germany invest in itself and modernize its infrastructure, be it in the industrial, digital or transport sectors.

“What’s required economically [in Germany] is significant change,” Clemens Fuest, president of Germany’s respected Ifo Institute, told CNBC Tuesday. His remarks included that the “we face challenges like digitization and climate change so it will be difficult to find a three party coalition that can compromise a lot.”

The party’s poor performance in the vote was also due to Merkel’s imminent departure. Experts point out that votes previously cast for CDU-CSU were actually votes for Merkel. Merkel was a respected leader, who attracted voters because of her steady and pragmatic approach to politics at home as well as abroad.

While Laschet was promoted as someone who will continue to be a continuity candidate, and that he can replace Merkel, many voters have rejected him.  

Read more: Without Merkel, many German voters don’t know who to vote for

For some, Laschet’s biggest disadvantage was that he simply wasn’t as likeable a candidate as his main rival Olaf Scholz, and that he just simply isn’t Merkel.

Matthew Oxenford of the Economist Intelligence Unit noted that Scholz was an attractive candidate for the chancellor than Armin Laschet of CDU/CSU. Thomas Gschwend of the University of Mannheim told CNBC that the CDU attempted to portray Laschet as a natural successor of Merkel. However, people didn’t believe this because he isn’t Merkel.