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It might be time for Angela Merkel to go

Normally, when your political rival suffers a setback, it's a perfect time to gloat..Not so for ...

Posted: Oct 15, 2018 12:47 PM
Updated: Oct 15, 2018 12:47 PM

Normally, when your political rival suffers a setback, it's a perfect time to gloat..

Not so for Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany.

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The catastrophic election results for the Christian Social Union in the Southern Germany state of Bavaria -- and the electoral disaster for State Premier Markus Söder and Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer, two of her harshest critics, will not bring any comfort for Merkel.

The result could spell doom for Germany's leader. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union, does not contest elections in Bavaria. Since the 1950s, the CSU has been left alone to fly the Bavarian Conservative flag.

And it did so with success: With the exception of a brief period in 2008-2009, when the party relied on the small center-left Free Democrat Party, the CSU has ruled Germany's largest state since 1954.

It will continue to do so, but with a drastically reduced number of votes -- and in coalition with one of its rivals.

In Sunday's election, the party's share of votes fell from 47.7% to a meager 37.2%.

Meanwhile, the Green Party made significant gains and increased its share of the votes to nearly 18%.

The independent Freie Wähler, or Free Voters, did well to finish in third place and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), finished fourth with over 10% -- marginally ahead of the Social Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partner in Berlin.

For the past year, the CSU has pursued a hard-line position opposing immigration. Former Bavaria premier Horst Seehofer -- now the federal minister of the interior in Berlin -- has openly defied Merkel.

This policy failed. Curret State Premier Söder tried to blame the result on Merkel's immigration policy. This might explain the gains for AfD, but does not account for the even more drastic rise for the Greens, a party that supported Merkel's decision to open the border to refugees in 2015.

The devastating result suggests that moderate conservative voters have punished the CSU for pandering to the far right.

The gains for the Green Party show that many Bavarian voters prefer its moderate policies. With Die Grünen no longer a party of the hippy generation, Green politician Winfried Kretschmann successfully heads a coalition with CDU in the neighboring state of Baden-Württemberg.

A good result for centrists in Bavaria would, under normal circumstances, be welcome news for Merkel. She has long pursued a partnership with the Greens -- but it has eluded her so far.

"She is not what she used to be," Michael Stürmer, one of Germany's leading historians, said recently. That is putting it mildly.

You can almost observe in real time how her power is ebbing away. The CDU's poll ratings have slumped in recent months.

She has become part of the problem. Previously, Merkel was safe, as her would-be challengers were right-wingers with little appeal to the center.

Things have changed. There are now credible alternatives to Merkel -- politicians who can appeal to the political center. Watch out for Daniel Günther, the leader of the state of Schleswig-Holstein, who currently heads a coalition government with the Green Party and the Free Democrats.

If the CDU loses the next state elections in Hesse in two weeks, Merkel could decide to step aside in favor of Günther at the CDU Party Conference in December.

It used to be said that all political careers end in failure. In the case of Merkel, it is likely to end in a whimper. Is it time to say Wiedersehen, Angela?

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