BERLIN – The contest over who should become Germany’s conservative candidate for chancellor took a dramatic turn early Tuesday after the Christian Democrats (CDU) backed their party leader Armin Laschet against his Bavarian rival Markus Söder.
In a secret ballot that took place at the end of a virtual meeting of more than seven hours of the executive committees of the CDU, Laschet won 77.5% of the votes cast against 22.5% of Söder, with 40 votes deemed valid and six abstentions. Although Laschet’s result looked impressive at first glance, it fell to 67% including abstentions – disappointing, given that the voters were all colleagues from his own party.
This is why some observers have questioned whether the ballot, which took place after midnight following a chaotic discussion among committee members on how to vote or even whether to vote, would be sufficient to put end to his own candidacy for the Conservative nomination. Although the CDU and CSU are separate parties, they nominate a joint candidate for chancellor. Söder did not immediately comment on the result.
Given the Tory bloc’s status as Germany’s dominant political force, whoever wins the sign will become the front-runner to replace Angela Merkel as Chancellor as she plans to step down after the September national elections. The leader of the CDU, a national party several times the size of the regional CSU, is normally the natural choice to produce the bloc’s candidate. But Söder, the son of a Nuremberg mason whose charisma made him a political star far beyond Bavaria, is far more popular than Laschet, a behind-the-scenes operator whom many Germans consider a conservative apparatchik.
Nonetheless, the CDU only elected Laschet, the regional premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, as its leader in January, and party mandarins fear that Söder’s appointment as the Conservative candidate for chancellor will undermine their authority. new president. Many CDU leaders have also been put off by what they see as underhanded tactics on Söder’s part to bypass party decision-making bodies with a public campaign highlighting his positive votes.
Responding to that criticism, Söder signaled on Monday that he would back down if the CDU executive made a clear choice for Laschet – but he did not say how he would make the decision. The Bavarian enjoys a wave of support within the joint parliamentary group of the two parties, where some members have mobilized to organize their own vote on the nomination, a step which could take place as early as Tuesday.
One of the biggest obstacles to selecting a candidate is that the two parties do not have a set process for making a decision. Laschet and Söder had initially said they would make the roll call between themselves, but that plan fell through when it turned out that neither was willing to give way to the other.
The CDU’s midnight poll capped a dramatic week-long battle for the candidacy that revealed deep divisions between the Nordic establishment of the conservative alliance, which stood behind Laschet, and grassroots MPs and conservative voters, who overwhelmingly support Söder.
If Laschet succeeds in securing the nomination, his immediate challenge will be to fix these loopholes. If he fails to do so, his chances of winning the fall election are likely slim.
It’s easier to be green
At the moment, Laschet is so unpopular in Germany compared to Söder that some MPs have said they don’t even want him to campaign for them.
Söder’s supporters at the CDU are betting his grassroots appeal – he recently overtook Merkel as Germany’s most popular politician in an investigation – could propel them to victory. A populist politician with a colorful and disproportionate personality, Söder offers a stark contrast to the sober political style favored by both Merkel and Laschet, a longtime ally of the Chancellor.
Even though the Conservatives have been rocked in recent months by criticism of their handling of the pandemic and a series of corruption scandals, they have maintained a substantial lead of up to 10 percentage points in the polls.
No matter who they nominate as a candidate, it will be difficult to defend that advantage amid a surge in support for the Greens. The Green Party announced its own candidate for Chancellor on Monday: Annalena Baerbock, one of its two co-leaders. Unlike the Tories, the Greens presented a united front, rallying around Baerbock in a carefully choreographed virtual coronation on Monday.
“The Greens have set the bar high for us,” said CDU MEP Dennis Radtke, a Söder critic who earlier this week suggested his party consider expanding to Bavaria, said at Bild Live Monday evening.
After 16 years of a conservative led regime under Merkel, the Greens are urging the Germans to embrace change.
By supporting Laschet, the CDU may have inadvertently helped the Greens defend their cause.