Germany’s Conservatives Select Chairman as Election Candidate

Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc picked its chairman to lead its ticket at this fall’s German election, opting for continuity over a more popular politician in a move that could complicate its attempt to retain control of the chancellery.

Ms. Merkel, one of the longest-serving democratic leaders of the postwar era, will bow out of politics after 16 years as chancellor in September.

Armin Laschet, chairman of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and state premier of North-Rhine Westphalia, will lead the bloc’s election bid.

Mr. Laschet has generally supported Ms. Merkel’s centrist, sometimes left-leaning, brand of conservatism. He has backed her liberal asylum policy and her championing of economic ties to China and Russia despite U.S. objections.

Yet the 60-year-old, who became chairman in January, is relatively unpopular with voters. A recent representative poll by Forsa found that 35% of conservative voters would either vote for another party or abstain in September if he were nominated. Only 19% would like to see Mr. Laschet become chancellor, the poll found.

Mr. Laschet’s unsuccessful rival for the candidacy, Bavarian Premier Markus Söder, enjoys far greater popularity both with conservative voters and the general electorate, according to various polls.

Mr. Söder, who has cultivated an image as a pugnacious and dynamic politician less enamored with consensus than Ms. Merkel, is seen as a strong leader by 57% of Germans and 40% would like him to become chancellor, according to the Forsa poll.

The leadership of the CDU, however, opted for Mr. Laschet in a vote late Monday. Mr. Söder, who is chairman of the Christian Social Union, the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, conceded Tuesday and vowed to support Mr. Laschet. The two parties contest federal elections as a bloc.

The bloc’s support has dropped from 39% last year to 28%, according to a poll by INSA published Tuesday. Pollsters mainly attribute the loss of support to the government’s pandemic management, which is perceived as erratic, ineffective and economically costly.

The CDU’s main rivals, the Greens, a center-left environmentalist party, are the second-largest political force with 21% support, according to the same poll.

According to the latest polling, the most likely coalition to emerge from the September ballot would be between the conservatives and the Greens.

Some pollsters, such as Hermann Binkert, the head of the INSA polling institute, have predicted that the Greens could even overtake the conservatives ahead of the election, giving them the right to the chancellery.

“It doesn’t look like it today, but there are five months left until the election,” Mr. Binkert said.

Write to Bojan Pancevski at [email protected]

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