‘The die is cast,’ said Markus Söder in a press conference yesterday as he stepped back to allow his rival Armin Laschet to run as the chancellor candidate for the conservatives in Germany’s upcoming election. This ominous phrase was carefully chosen by a man who thought a disastrously wrong decision had been made by the CDU elite.
Söder was by far the most popular chancellor candidate, and had a 20 point lead over his conservative competitor in the polls. Söder, the minister-president of Bavaria, won his own state and the wider German public over with his straight-talking and decisive action during the pandemic. With the charismatic Bavarian at the helm, Merkel’s CDU/CSU would have stood a good chance of not only retaining power, but winning the election comfortably.
Meanwhile the CDU/CSU’s chosen candidate, Laschet, is as unpopular as ever. One survey, taken shortly after his candidacy had been confirmed, put the German Greens seven points ahead of his party. As minister-president of North Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, Laschet had recently drawn the ire of his boss in Berlin as well as the wider public. His personality is as uninspiring as his political compass is off course. Selecting him as the chancellor candidate was a purely tactical choice for the conservatives, the product of internal power-politics.
The CDU elite think they are playing the long game: they want to let Laschet fail, give the party time to de-Merkelise, then bounce back before the next election. It’s a solid plan if you assume the electorate are a grey mass of predictable lemmings. In reality it is a dangerous scheme that goes right to the heart of German democracy. One can only assume that the CDU leaders have forgotten that they returned their lowest result since 1949 in the 2017 election – or the many elections during Merkel’s reign with historically low turnout, as people became increasingly disaffected with the German political establishment.
Merkel dragged the Christian Conservatives so far into the political centre that they became indistinguishable from their coalition partners, the Social Democrats.