German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Conservative Party suffered heavy losses in two important regional elections on Sunday, showing early estimates, as voters released anger over pandemic setbacks and a face-mask procurement scandal.
Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was on track to get its worst results ever in the southwestern states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, according to baseline surveys by public service broadcasters ARD and ZDF.
Both votes were carefully seen as a barometer of the national mood ahead of a general election on September 26 – when Merkel’s successor will be elected.
“This is a dark hour for the CDU,” Die Welt said daily.
In rich Baden-Wuerttemberg, the CDU fell to 23 percent, down from 27 percent five years ago.
The Green Party, meanwhile, held on to first place and received more than 31 percent of the vote, the best result in any regional election to date.
Baden-Wuerttemberg is Germany’s only state-run green party, Winfried Kretschmann, who has been in service since 2011.
He could now choose to maintain his current coalition government with the CDU, or build a new one with the center-left SPD and pro-FDP, each taking about 10 percent of the vote.
In neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate, the CDU placed second with 25-26 percent of the vote, down from almost 32 percent in previous regional elections.
The center-left SPD lost some support but held on to first place, at 33-34 percent, according to estimates.
The result paves the way for the popular SPD Prime Minister Malu Dreyer to continue ruling with the pro-FDP and the Greens, who more than doubled their points.
Due to the pandemic, a higher number of votes was decided than usual by mail, and observers warned that the final results could still change as the votes continued to count.
If confirmed, the results mark a worrying start for the CDU / CSU in what has been called Germany’s “super election year”.
The blunder comes after Merkel’s CDU and its Bavarian CSU sister party were upset in recent days by damaging allegations that MPs were apparently profiting from face masks early in the pandemic, forcing three lawmakers to leave quickly.
The scandal “weighed heavily” on conservatives in the last stretch of the campaign, said CDU Secretary General Paul Ziemiak.
He promised that the party would show “zero tolerance” towards all politicians caught in the line.
“Anyone who tried to enrich himself during the crisis has no place in the CDU,” he said.
German commentators have called the scandal the conservative “biggest crisis” since a slush fund controversy in the 1990s imprisoned former chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Deepening the conservative misery increases the public’s anger over a sluggish vaccination campaign, a delayed start of free rapid tests and stubbornly high infection rates despite months of suspensions.
Merkel’s coalition government, consisting of the CDU / CSU and the younger coalition partner SPD, originally won high praise for taming the first Covid-19 wave last spring, when the Germans gathered for trained researchers Merkel’s virus measures.
But growing dissatisfaction with the pandemic management has seen that nationwide support for the CDU / CSU fell to a one-year low of about 30 percent, the latest survey shows.
Germans might be able to look past the “worm store,” Der Spiegel wrote every week, “if the citizens felt that the government was doing its job, protecting it from the virus and guiding it through the crisis. But it is not.”
Observers who say the pandemic abuses could not only jeopardize the CDU / CSU’s chances of staying in government in the September election, they could also damage Merkel’s legacy as she prepares to bow.
“Crises have always been her greatest hour,” Spiegel said. “This time, she does not seem to have the situation under control.”