“The dice have fallen. Armin Laschet is the chancellor candidate” of the conservative CDU-CSU alliance, said his rival Markus Söder on Tuesday.
Hours after Laschet, 60, won the backing of the CDU party’s leadership, Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder finally backed down after a week of digging his heels in.
“The dice have fallen. Armin Laschet is the chancellor candidate” of the conservative CDU-CSU alliance, said Söder.
“There are days for discussion. There are days for decision. That has all happened and now it is important to look together into the future,” he said, adding that he wished Laschet success and offered him the backing of Bavarian sister party CSU.
The climbdown came after nine days of backbiting among MPs and leading figures within the conservative bloc that pushed the once-stable alliance to the brink of implosion just as Merkel is about to bow out from politics after 16 years in power.
While long-time Merkel ally Laschet received the CDU’s leadership’s backing, 54-year-old Söder commands far stronger support among the public.
A recent opinion poll commissioned by the Bild daily on Germany’s most popular politicians even had Söder topping the charts, just above Merkel, while Laschet languished in 12th place.
But the premier of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia,
has a history of coming back from behind.
A sworn Merkel loyalist, Laschet famously backed the chancellor during the
fallout from the 2015 refugee crisis.
Despite a souring mood at that time over the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers, Laschet seized North Rhine-Westphalia state — a sprawling
industrial region and a Social Democrats stronghold — in a regional election in 2017, handing a major boost to the CDU.
Laschet, a fluent French speaker and self-described “passionate European”, also prevailed in a battle for the CDU chief post in January, seeing off a fierce challenge from Friedrich Merz.
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With just five months to go before the September 26th election, when Merkel bows out after 16 years in power, the conservatives’ poll ratings have plummeted recently over their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Laschet, a long-time Merkel ally and the premier of Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, had already secured the backing of CDU top brass last week.
Elected as head of the CDU in January, Laschet would usually be the obvious choice to lead the centre-right CDU and its Bavarian CSU partner into the elections.
But the 60-year-old has been panned in recent months for flip-flopping on measures aimed at curbing the virus spread in his state, even attracting criticism from Merkel herself.
Laschet’s claim to be chancellor candidate has been fiercely contested by Söder, 54, who after months of keeping Germans guessing about his ambitions finally announced his bid for the top job on April 11th.
The former television journalist, who has echoed Merkel’s stance for tough curbs to tame Germany’s Covid-19 surge, currently commands more support from the German public and conservative lawmakers.
Merkel has not weighed in on the row, saying last week: “I wanted to, want to and will stay out of it.”
Participants at Monday’s marathon talks told German media that Merkel sat in on the video conference but did not contribute to the discussions, with some observers reading into her silence a lack of support for Laschet.
Söder told reporters on Monday that the CDU, as “the bigger sister party” had the ultimate say in who to send into the race for Merkel’s job.
“We don’t want to and we won’t see a rift between the CSU and the CDU,” he insisted.
A recent poll by public broadcaster ARD showed 44 percent of Germans in
favour of Söder as most qualified as the CDU-CSU’s chancellor candidate. Laschet only had 15 percent of support.
It remains to be seen whether the CDU’s internal vote marks the end of the conservative tug-of-war, with CDU-CSU parliamentarians set to hold a meeting on Tuesday.
Addressing Monday’s late night video conference, Volker Bouffier, regional premier of Hesse state who supports Laschet, warned that the board’s decision “may not be accepted” by the party rank and file.
The squabbles have damaged the alliance’s standing at a time when Europe’s biggest economy is struggling to end a pandemic that has killed 80,000 people and ravaged thousands of businesses and livelihoods.
The chaos in the conservative camp also stands in stark contrast to the centre-left Green party, polling second behind the CDU-CSU, which on Monday announced co-chair Annalena Baerbock as its chancellor candidate at a slick press event with no signs of strife.
Congratulating Baerbock on the nomination, Laschet promised a “fair election campaign” and urged parties to be “respectful” of each other in a veiled warning to Söder.