Election rout looms for Bavarian Merkel allies
A last-minute miracle seems to be the only possibility now for the German chancellor
Bavarian governor Markus Söder and German interior minister Horst Seehofer, at a final election rally in Munich, on Friday. Photograph: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies are praying a last-minute miracle can spare them an election rout on Sunday, with unpredictable consequences for the Berlin coalition.
After 61 years of uninterrupted rule in Germany’s prosperous southern state, a final poll suggests the centre-right Christian Social Union (CSU) has slumped 18 points since the last election to a record low of 34 per cent.
As Bavaria’s governing party, the CSU has delivered record employment and growth, but migration fears and a housing crisis in Munich and other Bavarian cities have catalysed a mood for change.
The prospect of the CSU being stripped of its absolute majority has turned the focus on to a likely coalition partner: the Green Party. On 19 per cent in final polls, it is on course to emerge as a big winner on Sunday by tapping into CSU fatigue and its perceived arrogance after decades in power.
Liberal, urban voters defected to the Greens during the summer after the CSU declared war on “asylum tourists”. Drifting away too are conservative voters, split with 10 per cent each in polls for the moderate right local Free Voter (FW) alliance and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
The AfD has capitalised on migration unease and a confused CSU strategy towards it. The party is now on course to enter Bavaria’s state parliament for the first time.
Uli Henkel, AfD lead candidate for Munich, admits an increasingly radical tone by AfD leaders elsewhere is creating a challenge for the party in Bavaria. “We are working to ensure crude remarks become less – not more – frequent,” he said, while promising “politics for German natives”.
In the last days of campaigning Bavarian governor Markus Söder and CSU leader Horst Seehofer have each tried to scapegoat the other. Mr Seehofer knows a poor result could force him out as the CSU’s federal interior minister in Dr Merkel’s Berlin coalition.
His future as CSU leader – and tricky Merkel ally – is also in doubt. But Mr Söder’s own damaged authority, and potentially troublesome coalition talks ahead, may complicate the post-election reshuffle.
Sources in Munich suggest an election disaster could see Manfred Weber, a senior CSU figure in Brussels, recalled to Munich as party leader. But that move could be delayed as he campaigns for the lead candidate nomination for the centre-right People’s Party (EPP) grouping in next year’s European elections.
Last week Dr Merkel said she backed Mr Weber as successor to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. Dr Merkel is braced for a post-election Bavarian blowback amid growing questions about her future as leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
“She is no longer as uncontested as she was in three [previous] terms of office,” said Wolfgang Schäuble, the Bundestag president, in a weekend radio interview.
Another weak link is Dr Merkel’s junior ally, the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Traditionally a weak performer in Bavaria, discord in Berlin has shrunk it to a humiliating 12 per cent in a final poll.
With one in two Bavaria voters still undecided, suspense is building over whether the Greens can convert into votes its 19 per cent support in polls. “Many people who would never have come to us in he past are backing us now because they realise the CSU is no longer a fit,” said Katharina Schulze, the Bavarian Greens’ relentlessly upbeat co-leader.
Her party knows a good result in Bavaria could be a game-changer for it nationwide.
The Greens already rule in Bavaria’s neighbouring, equally conservative state of Baden-Württemberg. And they support the CDU in government further north in Hesse, which chooses its own state government on October 18th.
Two state wins this month would revive talk of a CDU-Green alliance as the next best coalition option in Berlin – particularly if federal elections come sooner rather than later.