German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Conservative Party is at a crisis, as it struggles to agree on its future political direction after losing votes to the far-right. This comes after Angela Merkel’s heir apparent, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, told leading members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that she will not be seeking the chancellorship in next year’s election, halting Merkel’s plans to hand her the reins after remaining in power for more than 15 years. This follows days of internal conflict within the party over its handling last week of the gubernatorial election in the state of Thuringia.
The vote in Thuringia broke the taboo in the post-war German politics, regarding co-operating with extremist parties. Contrary to what Kramp-Karrenbauer said, the regional party politicians voted for the far-right Alternative for German party (AfD) to oust the left-wing incumbent, hence undermining her leadership. Kramp-Karrenbauer had urged the Thuringian CDU not to vote for the candidate, Thomas Kemmerich of the Liberal Free Democrats, but it acted against her wishes. Their insubordination underscored her waning authority in the party. Merkel intervened, describing the CDU’s behaviour as ‘unforgivable’ and insisting the election of Kemmerich be cancelled. This intervention highlighted Kramp-Karrenbauer’s weakness. Kramp-Karrenbauer thus, ruled out any co-operation with the left party of former Thuringia Governor Bodo Ramelow. She will however, remain as Germany’s Defence Minister.
Merkel announced that she won’t run for a fifth term in Germany’s next General Election scheduled for autumn 2021. However, the possibility of an early national election happening are high, since any shift to the right in Merkel’s party could trigger a breakup of her federal coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats. But leading figures in Merkel’s party expressed concerns about fallout from the announcement made.
In the recent poll conducted, Merkel’s conservative party had about 28% of the national support, followed by the left-leaning Greens at about 22%. At the tail-end of the poll were the Social Democrats and AfD, struggling with only about 14% support.
The race to succeed Angela Merkel as a German leader has been thrown wide open. Kramp-Karrenbauer is also to stand down as the leader of CDU, the party she has led since December 2018. Among the people being proposed as future CDU party leaders are Health Minister Jens Spahn, Friedrich Merz and Armin Laschet, the Governor of North Rhine-Westphalia. Markus Soder, the Bavarian Prime Minister and leader of CDU’s sister party, the Christian Social Union, is also seen by some in Berlin as a potential candidate.
The AfD party on the other hand welcomed Kramp-Karrenbauer’s resignation. The party has established itself as a powerful far-right force since its founding in 2013. Its success has complicated Germany’s political tradition of governing with AfD. The party in itself has successfully wielded populist tactics, emphasizing national self-interest and immigration controls while tolerating anti-Semitism and historical revisionism among its members.
A CDU spokesperson said that he would organize the process of choosing a candidate by summer, prepare the party for the future and then give up the leadership. He said that at the meeting, Merkel ‘expressed her deep thanks’ to Kramp-Karrenbauer and said that she hoped she would remain as Defence Minister, a post she attained last July. According to the CDU party spokesperson, Kramp-Karrenbauer said the reason for her decision to stand down was the ‘unclear relationship’ between parts of the CDU and the AfD, as well as the hard-left Die Linke party. Kramp-Karrenbauer insisted that any Christian Democrats who believe their party can unite with AfD should ask themselves ‘whether they can remain members of the CDU.’