After almost 13 years as Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel has finally lost credibility as leader. According to a poll by ZDF television, 56 per cent of Germans think Merkel should now step down from her long-held leadership role.
On 14th October, the sister party of Merkel’s CDU, the CSU, saw its worst results since 1950 as it lost its long-held majority in the Bavarian state election. Votes for the party fell by 10 percentage points since the last election. The CSU saw its previous supporters shift to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and to the far left party, the Greens. The centre-left is losing credibility fast, perhaps for good.
As Chancellor of Germany, Merkel should take responsibility and question her future role in party politics. Her policies on immigration dominated the state election as they were met with fierce opposition. Germany saw more than 1,000,000 asylum-seekers seek refuge within its states. Most of these immigrants reached Germany through Bavaria, which directly increased the popularity of the far-right AfD.
The CSU’s decision to take a more right-wing stance to win back these voters was another vital mistake. This endorsement of the far right is not only dangerous but clearly hasn’t worked. Not only did the AfD make clear gains at the Bavarian elections because of their anti-immigration stance, but voters were also sent in the opposite direction, to the Greens.
Voters who made huge efforts to support those seeking refuge also feel that the sudden right-wing stance of the CSU is a rejection of their efforts and have subsequently turned to the Greens. The Green Party more than doubled their votes to 17.5 per cent and successfully became the second strongest party in Bavaria. This political boost for the Greens is comforting as this once minor party overtook Merkel’s coalition partner, SPD, which received only 9.7 per cent of votes. Seeing voters split to each extreme is worrying.
The attention is now on Hesse, where the next state election will be held on 28th October. If Merkel’s party loses credibility to a similar scale again, the coalition will most likely fall and Merkel will not see the end of her fourth term as leader. In this situation, Merkel will not be able to deny that her position as Chancellor is in terminal turmoil. As a renowned political stronghold for the CDU, another loss for Merkel here would have to bring her leadership into question.
Even if Merkel survives until the CDU party conference in December, it’s unlikely she’ll be re-elected as Chancellor there, although this vote is usually just an unquestioned formality. Two CDU members have already said they will challenge Merkel for the leadership at the conference.
Angela Merkel has led the party for a long time with much success in the past. Although she is not solely responsible for the failures of her coalition in Bavaria, her mistakes do mean she must now hand over the political reigns to someone else.