Election posters show Winfried Kretschmann from the Greens and the party's top candidate for the Baden-Wurttemberg federal state elections in Mannheim, Germany, Wednesday, March 10, 2021. The elections will take place next Sunday. Letters on left poster read "edges stabilize", letters on right poster read "you know me". (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Merkel’s party suffers defeats in 2 German state elections

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right party suffered clear defeats in two German state elections on Sunday at the hands of popular governors from parties further to the left, according to projections. The setback comes six months before a national vote that will determine who succeeds the country’s longtime leader.

Sunday’s votes for new state legislatures in the southwestern states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate kicked off an electoral marathon which features another four state ballots and the Sept. 26 national election.

Amid discontent over a sluggish start to Germany’s vaccination drive, with most coronavirus restrictions still in place and infections rising again, Merkel’s Union bloc has been hit over the past two weeks by allegations that two lawmakers profited from deals to procure masks early in the coronavirus pandemic.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union already faced a challenging task against well-liked governors. Projections for ARD and ZDF public television, based on exit polls and a partial count of votes, showed those governors’ parties — the environmentalist Greens in Baden-Wuerttemberg and the centre-left Social Democrats in Rhineland-Palatinate — finishing first, some 7 to 9 percentage points ahead of the CDU. The CDU’s projected showings of about 23% and 27%, respectively, were the party’s worst since World War II in both states.

“To say it very clearly, this isn’t a good election evening for the CDU,” said the party’s general secretary, Paul Ziemiak. “We would have liked different, better results.”

Familiar, popular and reassuring incumbents appeared to have been a decisive factor in the elections as the pandemic enters its second year. That’s one advantage the CDU can’t count on in September. Merkel isn’t seeking a fifth term after nearly 16 years in power.

In Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany’s only Green party governor, Winfried Kretschmann, has become popular with centrist voters in 10 years running a region that is home to automakers Daimler and Porsche. The region was dominated by the CDU until Kretschmann won power shortly after Japan’s 2011 Fukushima reactor disaster, which accelerated the end of nuclear power in Germany.

Kretschmann, 72, a fatherly figure with a conservative image, featured on Green election posters with the slogan “You know me.” Merkel once used that slogan in a pre-election debate to underline her own largely ideology-free appeal.

The Greens’ success bolstered their confidence for the national election campaign, in which the traditionally left-leaning party is expected to make its first bid for the chancellery.

Their national co-leader, Robert Habeck, described Sunday’s votes as “a super start to the super election year, and we will hopefully be able to take the tailwind from Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate at full sail.”

Kretschmann has run Baden-Wuerttemberg since 2016 with the CDU as his junior partner, but may now be able to choose new allies.

The centre-left Social Democrats have led Rhineland-Palatinate for 30 years — currently under governor Malu Dreyer, whose personal popularity kept her party’s support above its dismal national ratings. The Greens are a junior partner in her governing coalition, which also includes the pro-business Free Democrats, and looked to have improved somewhat on their showing five years ago.

The far-right Alternative for Germany party appeared to have lost some support in both states but still polled between 9% and 11%.

It was an awkward moment for new CDU leader Armin Laschet to face his first major test since being elected in January, as the centre-right considers who should run to replace Merkel as chancellor.

Many people had already voted by mail, so it’s unclear how far the scandal over lawmakers in the CDU and its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union, allegedly enriching themselves through mask deals impacted Sunday’s vote. Nikolas Loebel, a CDU lawmaker from Baden-Wuerttemberg, and the CSU’s Georg Nuesslein have both quit their parties and say they won’t run for parliament again.

The Union bloc of CDU and CSU benefited from Merkel’s perceived good management of the pandemic last year. It still leads national polls by a distance from the Greens and Social Democrats — the latter the junior partner in Merkel’s coalition government — but this year has started badly. Germany’s vaccination campaign has been significantly slower than those of Israel, Britain and the U.S.

Laschet says that he and Markus Soeder, the CSU leader and Bavarian governor who is the other serious contender to run for chancellor, will decide on the centre-right candidate to succeed Merkel in April or May. Soeder’s political standing has risen during the pandemic.

Political scientist Karl-Rudolf Korte told ZDF television that Sunday’s results showed the pandemic rewarded “the known and not the unknown.”

“Laschet is unknown for many at the federal level,” he added, adding that the Union can’t expect to simply “march through” to the chancellery without Merkel and needs to think about “how to develop a leadership narrative with charismatic people who pull the party with them.”

The Social Democrats’ candidate for chancellor, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, said: “What we see today is that forming a government is possible without the CDU.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Andreas Schwarz, parliamentary party leader of the Greens in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Sandra Detzer, state leader of the Greens and Muhterem Aras, president of the state parliament react after the announcement of the first forecast of the results of the state elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Elections in two German states on Sunday pose a difficult test for Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, six months before a national vote that will determine who succeeds the country's longtime leader. (Marijan Murat/dpa via AP)

A flag of Germany's Christian Democratic Union party, CDU, the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, waves in the wind on top of the party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, March 14, 2021. Regional election in federal German states Baden Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate are held today. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, Pool)

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read