Armin Laschet faces pressure to end bid to be German chancellor

CDU’s hopeful struggling badly in polls ahead of Saturday’s official campaign launch

The Social Democratic Party’s top candidate for the federal elections, Olaf Scholz, has a six-point personal popularity surge. Photograph: Clemens Bilan

The Social Democratic Party’s top candidate for the federal elections, Olaf Scholz, has a six-point personal popularity surge. Photograph: Clemens Bilan

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German chancellor hopeful Armin Laschet is facing a backbencher revolt and demands he resign as Christian Democratic Union (CDU) candidate ahead of next month’s federal election.

Ahead of Saturday’s official campaign launch in Berlin, nervous party MPs warned that the leader’s gaffes and sliding personal popularity – 16 per cent in a Friday poll – are dragging down the party into an “election from hell”.

One MP compared the mood of denial in the CDU election headquarters to the Führerbunker in May 1945; another gave Laschet two weeks to turn things around – or stand aside.

“It’s better to react quickly and painfully than to go down together,” said Sylvia Pantel, CDU backbencher from Düsseldorf, at a parliamentary party meeting.

The Deutschlandtrend poll for ARD public television puts the CDU and its Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) allies on 23 per cent, down four points in a month and now just two points ahead of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).

Its candidate Olaf Scholz continues to power on, according to the poll, with a six-point personal popularity surge. Now 41 per cent of Germans find him the most suitable chancellor candidate in the race to succeed Angela Merkel. That popularity has transferred to a three-point SPD rise to 21 per cent.

At a closed-door CDU/CSU parliamentary party meeting, Laschet was told by MPs to stand aside unless he can turn around his campaign in two weeks.

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One backbencher described the party campaign as “shit”, according to the Bild tabloid, while senior party figures joined the criticism. Schleswig-Holstein state leader Daniel Günther reportedly said “no one was convinced” by Laschet’s manifesto.

Underestimated

CDU grand old man Wolfgang Schäuble suggested his party had underestimated the difficulty of swapping one CDU chancellor for another while in power. Merkel, who will also participate in Saturday’s launch, is standing aside after four terms in office.

Laschet was elected CDU leader in January and election lead candidate in April. A series of gaffes since then have complicated his campaign. Last month cameras caught him joking and laughing in a town ruined by floods in western Germany. Asked about that incident this week, he said: “Someone made a stupid remark, it was wrong, end of story.”

Grassroots campaigners say they are bearing the brunt of that incident. In a closed WhatsApp group, leaked to Der Spiegel, unnamed campaigners asked others how to counter voters’ widespread frustration with Laschet at election stands. Another asked how others were hanging up Laschet posters so “they get the least damage”.

In an extra twist at Saturday’s campaign launch, the third person on the bill will be the leader of the CSU – the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria – Markus Söder. Four months after he lost out to Laschet to lead their campaign, he was asked this week if he would consider stepping in if asked. Söder tantalised backbenchers by insisting that “technically, that train has departed”.

At Saturday’s event, observers will be watching to see how well he conceals his political ambitions – and whether Laschet can show authority without sounding defensive.

“I always said this would be no walk in the park,” said Laschet to this week’s Die Zeit. “But I remain confident that we will win the race. But now we have to sharpen things, that was always the plan.”

Sharpening his election message on Saturday will, aides say, involve warning voters that any non-CDU/CSU vote risks a left-wing government that will “destabilise” Germany at home and abroad.

Refugees

Laschet’s main promise is to revive the post-pandemic economy and manage Germany’s green energy transition without burdening German business. Saturday’s audience will be listening closely, too, to Laschet’s strategy on Afghanistan refugees.

Hours after the Taliban took control of Kabul, the CDU leader insisted there “could be no repeat of 2015” – a critical nod to Merkel’s decision not to close German borders and to accept more than one million refugees and asylum seekers.

Rather than permitting “uncontrolled” migration, such as during the Syrian war, Laschet said he favours “orderly migration” and regional assistance.

“I think we shouldn’t send out the signal now that Germany can effectively take in everyone now in need,” he said.

With the stakes high, Saturday’s detailed campaign launch written schedule leaves little to chance: an audience of party officials and scripted applause.

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