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Hamburg state elections put Merkel successor fight in perspective

Following a terrible showing in regional elections in the German city-state of Hamburg on 23 February, the CDU (Germany’s Senior governing coalition partner) called for an extraordinary conference on Sunday 25 April to choose the successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel who in 2018 had announced that she would not contest the scheduled 2021 federal elections.


The election result in Hamburg which was the CDU’s 2nd worst showing in the history of the German Federal Republic saw them get only 11.2% of the vote, translating to 14 seats in the city-state Parliament. This poor showing came off the back of the CDU’s decision to support – together with the far-right AFD – the FDP (Liberal) candidate for the position of state premier in the eastern state of Thueringen earlier this month. The political fall-out from this was huge with both the CDU and FDP ultimately paying a political price with decreased vote shares in the traditionally centre-left state of Hamburg and the FDP only just hitting the 5% threshold to make it into the state parliament. Whilst both parties have subsequently agreed to fresh elections taking place in Thueringen in April 2021, the Thueringen fiasco had already claimed the scalp of CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrennauer, Germany’s Defece Minister, who had only been elected Merkel’s successor in December 2018. Kramp-Karrenbauer who appeared weak in her handling on the Thueringen crisis ultimately decided to resign, whilst the FDP were broadly criticised for having relied on the votes of the AFD to take the Premiership.


Hamburg’s election was also over-shadowed by the far-right terrorist attack on a shisha bar in Hanau, a suburb of Frankfurt (central Germany) in the days before the vote. Whilst the centre-left SPD remained the largest party, their vote share decreased, with their coalition partners, the Greens doubling their vote share. It is unclear if the two parties will stay on in coalition in Hamburg but a two-party coalition is only possible if the SPD partake.

At a Federal level, elections in Germany are not scheduled until September 2021 and whoever takes over from Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer at the CDU will have to face the decision as to whether to continue with Merkel as Chancellor – a situation which ultimately worked against Kramp-Karrenabuer – or to try pushing Merkel out in order to have a clear run at leading the country into the next elections (on the assumption that at a Federal level, the junior coalition partners of the SPD were to continue to end their support to the CDU even with a different chancellor.)


The next state elections in Germany are not scheduled until March of next year and then in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where the CDU are the junior coalition partner of the Greens so whoever takes over from Kramp-Karrenabauer will have just under a year to prove themselves until the first major electoral test.


Recent federal opinion polls for the CDU have them hovering around the 27% mark, with their coalition partners, the SPD on around 15%. Early federal elections, as such would suit neither party. However, whoever takes from Kramp-Karrenbauer at the CDU will have to re-stabilise the party and also solve the dilemma of what do with Angela Merkel – Germany’s (and Europe’s) most formidable politician of the last 15 years.

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