Merkel’s Troubles Mount as Her Party Appears to Stumble in German Regional Elections

BERLIN (The Washington Post) -
germany elections
Christian Democratic Union (CDU) top candidate and Hesse State Prime Minister Volker Bouffier (R) shakes hands with Social Democratic Party (SPD) top candidate Thorsten Schaefer Guembel before an interview following the Hesse state election in Wiesbaden, Germany, Sunday. (Oliver Dietze/Pool via Reuters)

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s once-unassailable position in German politics endured yet another blow on Sunday as support for her party dropped precipitously in a state that’s long been a bellwether for the nation, projected results showed.

The election for the state parliament in Hesse, home of Frankfurt, the heart of German finance, gave Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) 27 percent of the vote, according to the first projection announced by German networks Sunday night. That was good enough for first place, but down 11 percent since the state last voted, in 2013.

Backing for Merkel’s coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), also plummeted, falling from 31 percent to 20 percent.

As the country’s two traditionally dominant centrist parties flailed, forces on either flank surged: the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the progressive Greens. The latter was vying with the SPD for second place.

The outcome was an almost exact replay of results in Bavaria two weeks ago, when the CDU’s sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), was humbled in a state where it has long been ascendant. After that vote, Merkel allies blamed the CSU’s rightward lurch on immigration for its poor results.

But Sunday’s vote suggests the CDU’s image has also taken a hit during a year when the nation’s politics have been dominated by a sustained feud within Merkel’s government.

The CDU has governed Hesse for nearly 20 years, and the party campaigned on an enviable record in the state of ultralow unemployment, high wages and minimal crime.

But analysts said that voters treated the election as a referendum on the national government, and their reviews of Berlin’s performance were poor.

With the CDU suffering its worst result in Hesse in decades, it was not clear whether its run in power in the state would continue. The CDU is expected to try to forge a coalition with the Greens but may need others.

If the party does relinquish control of the state government, that would be seen as a major blow to Merkel ahead of the CDU’s annual conference, in December, when she will be seeking reelection as party chairwoman. Although the party has remained relatively united behind its leader in public, discontent has been building as the CDU’s fortunes have sunk.

The results in Bavaria and now, apparently, Hesse, mirror political trends nationwide. The CDU won a third of the vote in last September’s German election, an historically poor performance for the party that has dominated the country’s postwar politics. But current polls show the CDU not even winning a quarter of the national vote.

The SPD has seen a similarly steep drop nationally, with Germany’s oldest political party falling from second place to fourth, behind the Greens and the AfD.