The two men vying to replace German Chancellor Angela Merkel after general elections in September on Monday weighed the results of regional polls that dealt their conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) major electoral losses.
On Sunday, voters in the south-western states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate vented their anger with the governing CDU.
The environmentalist Greens in Baden-Wuerttemberg and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) in Rhineland-Palatinate clearly asserted themselves against the CDU.
The setback represents the first test for the party’s new leader, Armin Laschet, who is among the contenders to stand as the CDU’s candidate for chancellor.
“We have to fight,” Laschet was cited as saying by participants in a senior-level meeting of his party on Monday.
Lachet is not guaranteed to be the party’s candidate, and his rival is the more conservative leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, Markus Soeder, who called Sunday’s results “a heavy blow to the heart of the union.”
Both votes are seen as a barometer of the national mood ahead of a September 26 national election, when a new coalition will be formed.
The results in the south-western states pave the way for regional coalitions between the Greens, the SPD and the pro-business Free Democrats, raising the prospect of a similar coalition forming at the federal level after the general election.
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A senior official of Germany’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) said on Monday that the losses should act as a “wake-up call” ahead of the September poll.
Former CDU environment minister Norbert Roettgen told the Rheinische Post newspaper that the party had to unify to counteract voters’ anger over pandemic setbacks and a face-mask procurement scandal.
It must be demonstrated to the public quickly and reliably “that vaccination and testing are part of [the CDU’s] strategy to combat the pandemic,” he said.
The deputy chairman of the CDU’s parliamentary group, Carsten Linnemann, told Die Welt newspaper in the wake of the state elections that the party “must finally prove that it can manage the coronavirus.”