Provincial elections in Germany would normally not have aroused much interest around the world, most particularly in Europe, were it not for the fact that the outcome will impact national elections on September 26 and the selection of a new Chancellor after Angela Merkel’s 16- year innings at the crease.
Sunday’s portents were distressing. Mrs Merkel’s conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), suffered heavy losses in the south-western states of Baden-Wurttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. While the antiincumbency mood has been pronounced, it might be presumptuous to speculate on the eventual psephological swing in September; nonetheless, the regional outcome is a barometer of the national mood ahead of the general elections.
In affluent Baden-Württemberg, Mrs Merkel’s centre-right CDU will have to contend with its worst-ever result at 23 per cent. In neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate, CDU scored 26 per cent, shedding 5.8 percentage points compared to the result in 2016. While the data is confined to two provinces, they do provide a benchmark of Germany’s road ahead.
The CDU has slumped to a historic low in the two states. The irony must be bitter not the least because Mrs Merkel’s stewardship has been fairly impressive during her unusually long stint. As in the 2016 vote, the Green party took first place again, garnering more than 31 per cent. If Sunday’s fallout is a microcosm of the general trend, it is more than obvious that voters have vented anger over setbacks in the wake of the pandemic and a face-mask procurement scandal.
The results mark a worrying start for the CDU/CSU to what has been dubbed Germany’s “super election year”. Mrs Merkel’s federal government, which includes the SPD as junior partner, initially won praise at home and abroad for suppressing the first coronavirus wave last spring.
She, it bears recall, was quite the most accommodating in her acceptance of migrants from North Africa and the Arab world when other countries of Europe, especially parties of the Right, were overwhelmingly loath to accept them.
For all that, her party has increasingly come under fire over Germany’s sluggish vaccination campaign, a delayed start to free rapid testing, and a resurgence in cases despite months of shutdown.
The CDU and its Bavarian sister party, CSU, have also been roiled by damaging claims about MPs apparently benefitting financially from face mask deals early on in the pandemic, forcing three lawmakers to step down in recent days. The mask scandal has weighed heavily on the election contest.
The fact of the matter must be that Mrs Merkel’s government has for a while been mired in irregularities, and it shall not be easy to garner dividend at the hustings. Both the irregularities are linked to the deadly disease.