Armin Laschet’s uphill battle for the German Chancellorship

By James Moules

GERMAN Chancellor candidate Armin Laschet faces several challenges as he battles to secure the top office in government, an expert has told Redaction Report.

Incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel is not seeking another term in the upcoming federal election this year, and Armin Laschet – the newly elected leader of Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) – has secured her party’s nomination to replace her.

However, this came following an internal struggle in which the leader of the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria Markus Söder put his name forward to lead the bloc into the election.

Opinion polling suggested that Söder was more popular with the public at large. An April 2021 Forsa poll found that 40 per cent of voters polled favoured Söder when up against the Green co-leader Annalena Baerbock (23 per cent) and SPD candidate Olaf Scholz (16 per cent). When presented with a choice of Laschet, Baerbock and Scholz, Baerbock and Scholz still scored 23 per cent and 16 per cent respectively, but only 19 per cent opted for Laschet.

[READ MORE: Annalena Baerbock: Could Germany soon have a Green Chancellor?]

Professor James Sloam, a politics expert at Royal Holloway University, told Redaction Report: “Söder has much better polling numbers, but he is minister-president of Bavaria.

“The main Christian Democrat Party are simply suspicious of the Bavarian sister party (CSU), because it is more socially conservative and populist and have often acted against the wishes of the Merkel Chancellorship when in government – e.g. negatives attitudes towards immigration and the EU that place them at odds with the Chancellor and parliamentary party.

“Whilst Söder has toned down his views on these topics in recent years, he is still not trusted by many in the party. Laschet is seen as a safe pair of hands, but his lack of charisma and lukewarm response to Government policy on Covid restrictions could be a problem.”

The CDU/CSU union has only nominated a Federal Chancellor candidate from the CSU twice. Edmund Stoiber was the bloc’s candidate in 2002 against the SPD’s incumbent Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and Franz Josef Strauss was nominated in 1980 to face off against Helmut Schmidt.

On both occasions, the CSU Chancellor candidates failed to win the office.

The CDU/CSU has been in power since Merkel won the Chancellorship in 2005 – at various times in coalition with the centre-left SPD and the liberal FDP.

While polling for the bloc had held strong for most of the time since the previous election in 2017, in recent weeks, the CDU/CSU’s polling numbers have gone into freefall, with several polls now placing the German Greens in the lead.

“The fall in the support for Christian Democrats is, in small part due to Covid-19, and the problems with the vaccination programme – however, in terms of death and infections don’t forget Germany has done much better than France and the UK,” Professor James Sloam explained.

“But it is more due to fact that Germans are tired with the Grand Coalitions of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats that have ruled Germany for 12 of the last 16 years. Many Germans were voting for the Merkel rather than the party, and now she is leaving this problem will be exposed.”

While every Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany has come from either the CDU or the SPD, the 2017 federal election saw a sharp drop in support for both parties, with the far-right AfD surging into third place with 12.6 per cent of the vote.

The CDU/CSU is the main centre-right party in Germany, but Merkel and Laschet are widely characterised as centrists.

On the prospect of the bloc haemorrhaging further votes to the AfD, Professor Sloam said: “Laschet’s more centrist policies will open up more potential voters to the AfD if that party can hold itself together and avoid an association with far-right extremism/neo-Nazi groups.

“This follows in the tradition of Merkel’s social conservatism – don’t forget that Merkel was/is something of a hate figure for the AfD and populist right with her policy of welcoming refugees during the Syrian conflict in 2015.”

Featured Image: Olaf Kosinsky @WikimediaCommons

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