- Angela Merkel’s 16-year reign may come to an end as Germans make their way to the polls on Sunday.
- Her legacy is likely to be tainted by a failed succession with her party that is expected to return her worst post-war result in this year’s election.
- After a major setback in 2015 after she kept Germany’s borders open to immigrants, she announced her retirement three years later.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel may be praised abroad for her quiet management of the crisis – at home, her legacy risks being tarnished by a failed succession with her party set to return its worst post-war result in Sunday’s election.
As Germans head to the polls, opinion polls show Merkel’s conservative coalition, CDU-CSU led by Armin Laschet, is trailing behind rival Social Democrat Olaf Scholz and risks toppling the government altogether after 16 years in power.
Everyone knows: if Laschet loses, Merkel’s legacy will also be lost. Only if (he) wins.. will the CDU be able to reconcile with 16 years of rule under Merkel.
The veteran chancellor who grew up in communist East Germany stands out in a party dominated by the Roman Catholic patriarchs of the West, who over the years have reluctantly accepted the conversion of the CDU to the center with back-to-back electoral successes.
But her fateful decision to keep Germany’s borders open to immigrants in 2015 triggered a major setback from her party and even other EU countries, leading to a series of defeats in regional elections. Ultimate setbacks in 2018 prompted her to announce her retirement from politics.
Her chosen successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, was forced to step down in early 2020 due to a regional political scandal in which her party voted alongside the far-right AfD – shunned by mainstream politicians.
Read | Merkel’s latest bid for party stability in opinion polls
With few good options, the Conservatives finally gave in to Laschet, the current unpopular CDU chairman and potential successor to Merkel.
But Laschet did not gain prominence until after fierce battles at first for the CDU leadership, and later for the nomination as the chancellor of the conservative coalition against the more popular Marcus Söder of the Bavarian sister party CSU.
With discontent persisting in the loser’s camps from previous leadership battles, the defeat of the Conservatives will likely bring down Laschet and set the stage for a new fierce power struggle.
“There will be an earthquake, a harsh protest for the role of the head of the parliamentary group,” a NDA press group predicted, adding that the CDU would blame the larger CDU.
As summer came, the Conservatives were enjoying a comfortable lead against the SPD.
But Laschet was seen laughing behind President Frank-Walter Steinmeier as he paid tribute to the victims of the deadly floods in July, an image that would radically change the mood against him and his party.
With climate now the most important issue for Germans, a youth-led call for greater environmental protection has made the CDU, a traditional friend of the auto industry, seem out of time.
The devastating corruption scandals over buyouts during the pandemic have also added to the bad press that has plagued the party.
Merkel, who has largely planned to walk away from campaigning, has found herself compelled to step in to support Laschet, and has built up joint appearances in the hope that he will give him some of the glamor of the still-popular chancellor.
Karl Rudolf Kurti of the University of Duisburg said:
What is clear in recent years is that everyone who has stood closer to Merkel has been able to benefit from it. It is not the distance from her that helps with the surveys, but the impression that she is almost identical with her.
After a large rally on Friday in Munich, Merkel appealed to the sensitivities of the country’s older voters, urging them to keep conservatives in power “to preserve Germany’s stability”.
Just 24 hours before the vote, I also raced to Aachen, the land of Lachette, to give it a final push.
At the gathering, she said Laschet is “building bridges that will keep people on board” in shaping Germany for its future challenges.
Thorsten Faas of the Free University of Berlin pointed out that the hole left by Merkel was also an indicator of her strength.
“People now note that the capacity of the Federation to integrate, to hold together in all directions, flows from her as a person and the reward of her office. She has left a void, first at the head of the party, and now also in the Chancellery.”
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