Merkel coalition battered as Germans vote against mainstream parties

BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition faced a renewed setback with a resounding defeat in a state election and its main ally wavering over support for the government.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats plummeted nearly 12 percentage points from 2014 to 21.8 per cent in an election for state assembly in the eastern state of Thuringia, according to preliminary results published early on Monday (Oct 28). At the same time, the populist right-wing AfD more than doubled its standing and marginally beat the CDU at 23.4 per cent.

The Social Democrats, Merkel’s junior coalition partner, also lost ground, shedding roughly four percentage points to 8.2 per cent. As a result, the incumbent Left party, which won the election with 31 per cent, will no longer have sufficient support to govern Thuringia with its current alliance that also includes the Greens.

The result in the eastern German state reflects the increasingly splintered political spectrum in Germany, where traditional centrist parties have been losing steadily. The refugee crisis, climate protests, and more recently an economic slowdown and geopolitical tension in Europe’s backyard have fuelled rifts among and even within political parties.

“Since 1949, we have not had such a result, where the parties of the democratic centre in Germany are unable to form a government,” CDU candidate Mike Mohring told reporters in Erfurt Sunday night. “This is a really bitter result.”

It’s the latest sign of trouble for Merkel in the twilight of her chancellorship. Europe’s largest economy has slowed sharply and will expand only a projected 0.5 per cent this year, compared with 2.5 per cent two years ago. At the same time, her designated successor, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has failed to gain traction in her party, while repeatedly stumbling as she seeks to win back voters from the far-right.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, who replaced Merkel as chief of the CDU late last year, fuelled animosity in the coalition when she proposed a peace-keeping force for northern Syria involving German troops without consulting the SPD.

“Given the strong showing by the far right, the CDU debate about the best path into the post-Merkel world is set to continue,” Carsten Nickel, analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London, wrote in a research note.

On Saturday, the SPD failed to end months of debate over whether to leave government. Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the only candidate who unequivocally backed staying in government, won a first-round party leadership ballot but had only a narrow margin over the runner-up.

Taken together, various candidates of the leftist camp that favour easing Germany’s fiscal rigour and exiting the coalition got more than half of the vote, versus Scholz’s 22.7 per cent.

The run-off vote is scheduled to conclude Nov 30 and the party is to decide in December whether to stay in the coalition.

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