Merkel’s heir bolsters bid for Chancellorship with state win
Armin Laschet boosted his chances of succeeding Angela Merkel as German chancellor by securing a decisive victory in the country’s poorest state.
In the final electoral contest before the national vote in September, the 60-year-old party leader showed he can successfully guide the Christian Democrats in a tight campaign. The outcome will help ease doubts about his suitability to lead Germany’s conservatives.
The CDU halted its slide in recent elections on Sunday, winning 37% of the ballots in Saxony-Anhalt to improve on its last result, according to projections from public broadcaster ARD. The far-right Alternative for Germany, which was pushing for the lead in recent polls, slumped to a distant second in the former communist region with 22%.
“The national CDU under Armin Laschet now has the momentum on its side,” said Holger Schmieding, the London-based chief economist at Berenberg. “The concern that Laschet maybe a hindrance rather than a help should be deflated.”
Laschet became the leader of Merkel’s CDU in January and stumbled out of the gate with the party suffering its worst-ever results in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in March.
That set up a messy power struggle with Bavarian ally Markus Soeder for the right to be the bloc’s candidate for chancellor. While Laschet prevailed, he emerged bruised.
After Sunday’s result, Laschet can turn with renewed confidence to tackling the Greens and their candidate Annalena Baerbock, his main rival to lead Europe’s largest economy.
The environmental party’s momentum has stalled in recent weeks, and the trend was underscored by a smaller-than-expected gain in Saxony-Anhalt, which could cost the party its role in the state’s government.
“We gained but not as much as we’d hoped,” the 40-year-old co-leader of the Greens said on ARD.
Germany’s political establishment, meanwhile, can breathe a sigh of relief. A victory by the AfD would have been the right-wing party’s first on the state level, triggering complex political manoeuvring to keep them out of the regional government.
Instead, Reiner Haseloff, the CDU’s state premier, has a range of choices to form a coalition for his third term. His current government consists of a three-way alliance with the Social Democrats and the Greens. He could replace the Greens with the pro-business FDP, which has also been gaining support nationally.
In the run-up to the election, Laschet appealed to the state’s mainstream voters to back the CDU, saying it was important to defend democracy from the right-wing nationalist party. It was enough to gain a significant edge in Germany’s unsettled political landscape as the Merkel era draws to a close.
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