Merkel’s Party Drops to Record Low in Hamburg Vote, Greens Gain

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party plunged to a post-World War II low in a state election in Hamburg as voters gave their first verdict on political turmoil in Germany that has upended her succession plans.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union took 11.2% of the vote on Sunday, a drop of more than 4 percentage points, according to projections by ARD public television. The city-state’s governing Social Democratic Party secured a clear victory with about 38.6%, even as its support eroded from 45.6% five years ago.

The biggest gainer was the Green party, which doubled its share to a projected 24.8%, a surge that parallels its rise in national polls. The far-right Alternative for Germany party was at risk of dropping out of the Hamburg legislature with a slight drop in support.

Merkel’s party has been hobbled after her heir-apparent, CDU national leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, announced her resignation on Feb. 10. That followed a crisis in Germany’s political establishment after CDU lawmakers in the eastern state of Thuringia cast their lot with the AfD to install a regional premier, who quit within days amid an outcry.

“It’s a bitter day for the CDU in Germany,” party General Secretary Paul Ziemiak told reporters, placing part of the blame on the Thuringia controversy. “What happened there and all the discussions linked to it was anything but a tailwind for the CDU.”

Next Stage

The CDU’s worst-ever result in Hamburg, a city it governed as recently as 2011, sets the stage for a meeting of CDU national leaders on Monday, where Kramp-Karrenbauer will seek to steer the process for her succession as party chief. Whoever wins that post is likely to be the party’s candidate for chancellor in the next national election.

Merkel, 65, has said she won’t run again after her fourth term ends in 2021 at the latest. Should a new party leader emerge in the coming months, a complex cohabitation with Merkel in the chancellery may prove tenuous.

Adding to the sense of chaos, tensions around extremist activity in Germany have intensified since an assailant killed 11 people, including himself, in the city of Hanau near Frankfurt on Wednesday. Authorities said the gunman, a 43-year-old German, was motivated by xenophobia. Merkel vowed to eradicate racist “poison.”

The repercussions may have cost the AfD, which has won seats in the Germany’s Bundestag and all 16 state assemblies. After that series of victories, failing to re-enter Hamburg’s 121-seat parliament would be a setback.

Eastern Fiasco

Support also fell for the pro-business Free Democrats, who triggered the Thuringia debacle when the party put forward a candidate for state premier. Projections showed the FDP at 5%, on the cusp of also exiting parliament.

In Thuringia, Merkel’s party sought to restore a semblance of stability on Friday by agreeing to support the re-election of the previous state premier, whose anti-capitalist Left party is anathema to the Christian Democrats at the national level. The deal would avoid relying on AfD votes in the state legislature.

The plan was thrown into question on Saturday as several national CDU leaders, including former Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, raised objections, saying it would harm the party’s credibility.

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