Updated: Mar 25, 2021
Current affairs writer Ollie Gee analyses the political climate in Germany ahead of the Bundestagswahl.
2021 has already hit Germany hard with the coronavirus pandemic, but the country also faces seven Landtagswahlen (regional elections) throughout the year, as well as its quadrennial Bundestagswahl (federal election) in September. The first two regional elections took place on Sunday 14th March in the states Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz, beginning this important political year for the country.
Preliminary exit polls show the Greens retaining power with around 32% of the vote in Baden-Württemberg, and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) falling to 24%. Meanwhile, in Rheinland-Pfalz, the polls predict the Social Democratic Party (SPD) to receive about 35% of the vote, and the CDU to fall to 27%. Both parties will retain power in their respective states. However, this is at the expense of the CDU, who recorded their record lowest tallies in regional elections in the states. Inevitably, there will be winners and losers of what has been dubbed Germany’s “Superwahljahr” (super election year). But if the results of last weekend’s regional elections are any kind of indication of current voting trends, Germany's political landscape could see significant change.
Germany is currently run by a so-called ‘Grand Coalition’ of the CDU and SPD, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been in charge for 16 years. Merkel is due to step down as Chancellor this year, naturally leading to an element of uncertainty regardless of the outcome.
Angela Merkel. Photo: Jonas Schmidt via Pixabay
Despite the party’s below-par result in the exit polls, the CDU need not be completely disheartened. In Rheinland-Pfalz, Malu Dreyer was re-elected for the CDU’s coalition partners, the SPD. Despite the party seeing a recent dip in national voting intention polls to about 17%, the centre-left party were elected, as expected, for the seventh consecutive time since 1991 in this stronghold state.
Meanwhile, Baden-Württemberg opted to re-elect Winfried Kretschmann, a popular State Premier. Kretschmann made history for the Greens five years ago by beating all other parties in a regional election, marking the Greens' first ever clean sweep. His popularity has been proven by approval ratings of 70%, enthusiasm which is also reflected in the surge of the Greens in recent national polls, where they took around 18-19% of the vote. The party’s impetus proved too strong to be stifled by the CDU, and the Greens hope that this result will further boost their momentum on the national stage.
Winfried Kretschmann. Photo: "File:Im Gespräch Sylvia Löhrmann und Winfried Kretschmann (2).jpg" by Bündnis 90/Die Grünen Nordrhein-Westfalen is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Both of the election results in Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz raise the prospect of a so-called regional 'Ampelkoalition' (traffic light coalition) between the Greens, SPD and FDP (Free Democratic Party). The centrist FDP strengthened their positions in both states, increasing the possibility, albeit remote, of a coalition of this kind forming a federal government in September.
In response to this idea, SPD Chancellor candidate and current Finance Minister in Merkel’s cabinet Olaf Scholz told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) news agency, “It’s a good day, because it shows that it’s possible to create a government in Germany without the CDU.” Christian Lindner, leader of the FDP, has also expressed his willingness to share responsibility as part of any federal coalition government.
In order for the Christian Democratic Union to remain in office, they must first identify their party’s issues. Recently elected chairman, Armin Laschet, blamed the government’s response to COVID-19 for the poor results, saying they “must do better”. The pandemic is taking its toll on Germany, with issues such as the slow vaccine rollout attracting negative press.
Moreover, the recent face mask procurement scandal saw Nikolas Löbel and Georg Nüsslein, of the CDU and CSU respectively, resign over taking six-figure payments for brokering face mask dealings. Armin Laschet also acknowledged this “personal misconduct” as a factor for the party's waning popularity, as did CDU general secretary Paul Ziemiak, who eventually put the defeat down to the “personal success” of the Greens and SPD.
This does, ultimately, remain a victory for the opposition, with the CDU experiencing record defeats. Time will tell whether these results reflect a trend that will follow through to September’s federal election. Recent events seem to have created a tight deadline for the CDU to fix their pitfalls and win back the voters they have lost. It is now up to the party to get back on track in this unprecedented and dynamic period which will render the process of electing Merkel’s successor all the more uncertain.