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Sep 4, 2021
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The Merkel disaster: a mistake, stubbornness, or a logical outcome?

© AFP 2021 / John McDougall

Preparing to leave the post of chancellor, Angela Merkel was grossly mistaken – and in fact deprived her party of the chance to remain in power. Yes, the election campaign in Germany is ending really sensationally – three weeks before the elections, the CDU-CSU is rapidly losing its place as the country’s first party.

The current campaign generally brought a lot of surprises – the ratings of the majority of parties either rose sharply or fell just as quickly. But now the final tendencies have already clearly emerged, which cannot be reversed: the Germans do not want to see the new chancellor of the one whom Merkel has chosen as the successor. The majority of voters have a preference for Olaf Scholz and his Social Democratic Party. He will almost certainly become the new chancellor – the only question is which coalition he will lead.

Moreover, Scholz will be largely indebted to Merkel for her victory – if not for her stubbornness, then the mere fatigue of the Germans from the 16-year rule of Christian Democrats would not have been enough for the victory of their junior coalition partners from the SPD. It was she who not only could not choose a worthy successor – she did everything to ensure that the CDU-CSU did not have a strong candidate for chancellor.

At first, even after the last elections, she decided to transfer everything to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer – making her the head of the CDU with an eye to the chancellorship after the 2021 elections. But the former defense minister very quickly disappointed everyone – and they began to look for a replacement for her.

There were charismatic figures in the party – for example, the former leader of the faction in the Bundestag, Friedrich Merz, who in 2002 was forced to cede his post to Angela Merkel, who then led the CDU. Merz retired from politics for many years – but three years ago he decided to return to replace Merkel. However, he was not allowed to lead the party. He lost twice by a small margin: first in 2018 to Kramp-Karrenbauer, and in January of this year to Armin Laschet, Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia. It was on Lasheta that Merkel made a bet in order to prevent the party from passing under the control of an outsider Merz. But he turned out to be as uncharismatic as Annegret, and in the end he drowned his own party. Although it would be more honest to say that Merkel herself drowned the CDU, because it was she who, by hook or by crook, pushed her protégés.

Laschet’s unpopularity was evident from the outset – but even after he took over the party, the CDU had a chance to stay in power. It was simply necessary to nominate Marcus Seder, the leader of the “younger sister,” the Bavarian CSU, as a candidate for chancellor. He was much more popular – but also independent from Merkel. Unsurprisingly, Angela did her best to prevent his nomination.

And what is the bottom line? The Germans, of course, formally vote for parties, not for candidates for chancellor – but Merkel clearly underestimated the role of personality in history. Lashet’s nondescriptness pushed voters away from the CDU-CSU – the latest polls give the party 20 percent. This is the lowest result in her history, especially in contrast to the 38 percent she had last April, at the beginning of the quarantine due to the pandemic. Of course, the popularity of the party was affected not only by Lashet’s weakness, but she was the fatal factor that, in fact, sentenced the CDU-CSU to go over to the opposition.

Yes, everything goes to this. Although all three candidates for chancellor are uncharismatic, the Germans dislike Laschet so much that they tormented them and opted for Olaf Scholze. As on the best of the worst – besides, the finance minister is also the vice-chancellor, that is, the deputy of Merkel herself. Here is a kind of continuity.

If there were a direct election of the chancellor, 43 percent would vote for him – against 16 for Lashet. The third candidate, “green” Annalena Berbock, would have scored only 12: a short spring takeoff, when the prospects of her chancellorship were even seriously discussed, gave way to a deep summer fall. Along with it, the rating of the Greens as a whole falls – 16 percent remained from the spring 28 percent.

And the SPD has grown from the recent 16 percent to 25 percent – and may add more to the elections. So Scholz will become chancellor? Yes, and he has two options for this. The third option, when he does not become chancellor, is becoming less and less realistic every day. This is a variant of the so-called Jamaica, that is, a coalition with the colors of the flag of the Caribbean state: the CDU-CSU, the Greens and the liberals from the Free Democratic Party. “Jamaica” has long been considered almost a foregone conclusion of these elections. But now, against the backdrop of falling ratings of both the CDU-CSU and the Greens, the chances of forming this coalition are diminishing.

Now all three parties – including the FDP – together gain 49 percent. Yes, the share of those parties that will not overcome the five percent barrier will also go to them, that is, they will have more than half of the deputies in the Bundestag. After the last elections, 2017, Merkel tried to create “Jamaica” for several months – and all to no avail. But then she was helped by a return to the grand coalition, that is, to an alliance with the SPD – the Social Democrats really did not want to remain in an unequal marriage. And now there will be no such opportunity. It is almost impossible to imagine an option in which the SPD, having won the elections, will take the Christian Democrats as its junior partner. And who are they now – without the popular Merkel, but with the unpopular Lashet?

The Social Democrats are now pulling out a lucky ticket – because over the long years of cohabitation with the Merkel party (and they were in the ruling coalition for 12 out of 16 years) they almost turned into a second-tier party. From the “People’s Party” Germany’s oldest party slipped to a humiliating 15 percent for it – and it seemed that Merkel drank all the blood out of it. But Merkel’s mistake (if not talking about short-sighted stubbornness) in choosing a successor gave the SPD a chance to take power – and it will be very strange if after September 26 she does not implement it.

Olaf Scholz will have two options. He may lead a traffic light coalition, named after the SPD (red), FDP (yellow) and Greens. This option now seems to be the most realistic, but there is also a version of a purely left coalition – when instead of the FDP, the “Left” will take the third place.

The “leftists”, the heirs of the SED, the ruling party of the GDR, received more than nine percent in the last elections, but now one and a half times fewer voters are ready to vote for them. In the eastern lands, that is, in the former GDR, the fiefdom of the Left, they have long been squeezed by the Alternative for Germany (in these elections it will retain or even improve its previous result of 12 percent). But AfD is openly anti-elite, so all other parties are not allowed to even think about a coalition with it at any level.

The “leftists” have long come to power at the level of the provinces. Including in Berlin – where a coalition of the SPD, the Greens and the Left rules.

Now the same possibility could theoretically arise at the federal level – which would be a major shift to the left of all German politics. But the chances of its formation are small – the “Left” will be required to renounce rejection of NATO, nationalization and other “radicalism”: and acceptance of such demands will finish off the party.

So the easiest thing for Olaf Scholz will be to become chancellor from the “traffic light” – two left-wing parties (the “Greens” in general were formed by secession from the SPD) and one liberal party. Yes, of course, they are all conditionally leftists, but they are Atlanticist comrades, systemic. Not some radical and almost extremist (for the German elite) “Alternative for Germany”, which in this case will be forced to give up the place of the main opposition party CDU-CSU in the Bundestag. That is, the former party of Merkel – which, when she left, due to her stubbornness, she left without power.

By the way, it will not be easy for Merkel to leave – if negotiations on the creation of a new coalition drag out (and, most likely, it will), she will still work as chancellor for several months after the elections. During which, however, she will no longer be able to correct her mistake.

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