E. Wayne Merry
A historic mission of the CDU has been to prevent the emergence of a viable political party on the far right at the national level.
In Sunday’s national elections in Germany, Angela Merkel presided over a major political failure for her party and her country. Yes, Merkel will remain chancellor for a fourth term, probably in a fragile three-party coalition. However, a historic mission of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has been to prevent the emergence of a viable political party on the far right at the national level. Chancellors and CDU leaders from Konrad Adenauer through Helmut Kohl understood this mission and fulfilled it. Merkel has failed, largely due to her pursuit of an ever-larger political center through coopting leftist policies and programs. She thus left ample space on the right for the new Alternative for Germany (AfD) which gained 13 percent of the vote on Sunday.
The voting results were clear cut. The CDU and its Bavarian sister party the CSU were the two big losers, while the Social Democrats (SPD), the AfD and the Free Democrats (FDP) were the big winners. The Greens and Left Party remained pretty steady at about 9 percent each. Additionally, 4 percent more voters participated than in the previous national election in 2013.
By far the biggest loser was Merkel’s CDU/CSU, which dropped 8.7 percent from 2013. Much of this voting hemorrhage was due to the catastrophic performance of the CSU in Bavaria, its worst since the founding of the Federal Republic in 1949. Bavaria had not had a recent state election to test the strength of the AfD, which has entered the legislatures in thirteen of the sixteen states. Now we know that the AfD has great strength in Bavaria, to the extent it dragged down the Union (CDU plus CSU) to one of its worst electoral outcomes. There is a parallel with the recent electoral failure of the British Conservative party, which left Prime Minister Theresa May in office but dependent on distant political allies in Northern Ireland. Merkel will be in a similar situation if she creates a three-party coalition with the FDP and Greens.
Merkel and CSU leader Horst Seehofer, though political allies, have been at daggers drawn for some time, often quite publicly. While Merkel may take some personal gratification from Seehofer’s electoral humiliation, it will be cold comfort as she now leads a seriously weakened Union in negotiations to form a governing coalition, especially as the Free Democrats remember how she essentially shoved them overboard as political allies four years ago.