The party’s great loss will not tarnish Merkel’s image

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BERLIN (AP) – Angela Merkel will step down in the coming months with her popularity intact among voters and widely admired beyond Germany as the Chancellor who has skillfully led her country and Europe through many crises.

Its center-right political bloc, on the other hand, is in ruins.

The once dominant Christian Democratic Union and its sister Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union, suffered their worst result in national elections on Sunday.. The Union bloc won less than a quarter of the vote and could find itself relegated to the role of opposition after 16 years in power.

The fault was largely blamed on her party’s irrelevant candidate, Armin Laschet, a state governor whose blunders and friendly demeanor contrasted with Merkel’s image as a calm and professional stateswoman.

But observers say the longtime leader bears at least some responsibility for the desperate situation in which her party currently finds itself.

“Merkel has focused on the government in recent years and neglected her work in the party,” said Klaus Stuewe, a political scientist at the Catholic University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt.

After stepping down as party leader in 2018, Merkel has largely taken a step back as the Christian Democrats endured a series of painful leadership contests. The turmoil hampered her efforts to craft a cohesive party platform – which for years had largely focused on the character of Merkel – and many voters lost confidence in her competence in key areas such as foreign policy and economic.

Even after Laschet won the Union bloc nomination in a hotly contested battle in April, Merkel stayed away. This left some of her group wondering if she cared what would happen to her once she was gone. What could have been a gracious political move to let young politicians take the reins as the 67-year-old leader became an older stateswoman apparently backfired, leaving a huge void. It’s also unclear what Merkel thought of Laschet as a potential successor.

“For a long time she did not campaign for Laschet at all, only supporting him at the very end before the Bundestag elections, when it was already too late,” Stuewe said.

As the party’s dismal election results became apparent on Sunday night, Laschet said “no one had a bonus for the incumbent in this election” – an acknowledgment that he had failed to capitalize on stature world of Merkel.

The Union bloc is still looking for a chance to lead the next government with two small parties – the Green Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats – but his second place in Sunday’s election behind the center-left Social Democrats makes this very difficult to justify.

Some party members suggested that it might be better to go for a renewal period.

“Of course we are ready for talks,” said Bavarian governor Markus Soeder, who heads the Christian Social Union and was beaten by Laschet to be the bloc’s candidate for chancellor.

But Soeder has made it clear that his faction within the Union bloc is also ready to join the opposition, adding: “We will not try to form a government at any cost.”

Her party’s poor result is unlikely to tarnish most voters’ favorable opinion of Merkel, as she remains acting chancellor – possibly for several months – while the German coalition talks unfoldsaid Julia Reuschenbach, political scientist at the University of Bonn.

“As long as the formation of a new government lasts, she will likely remain the seasoned and seasoned politician who must now lead the country through a period of transition,” said Reuschenbach.

In some ways, Merkel’s policies will survive her reign.

Olaf Scholz, who led the Social Democrats to a narrow victory, successfully adopted Merkel’s calm, factual style during her campaign. His strong commitment to European integration and the transatlantic alliance with the United States will also continue under Scholz or Laschet, according to experts.

“In domestic politics, his successor should above all prove himself as a moderator between three coalition parties,” said Frank Brettschneider, specialist in communication theory at the University of Hohenheim.

In doing so, the next German Chancellor may also have to respond to one of the biggest criticisms of Merkel’s step-by-step approach to politics: that it has failed to keep pace with the big changes that are taking place. occur in the country and beyond.

While some saw Merkel as an anchor of stability, especially in times of turbulence, others saw her as a source of stagnation.

The much needed reforms – from the digitization of schools and government services to the greening of German heavy industry – were hardly attempted under Merkel. And despite frequent vocal protests To speed up Germany’s response to climate change, she made sure the country’s powerful auto industry was immune to harsh measures.

“During Trump’s presidency, she was a projection screen for many more liberal and cosmopolitan, but fundamentally conservative, approaches to politics,” said Stuewe, the political scientist.

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Follow Frank Jordans on http://www.twitter.com/wirereporter

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Follow AP’s coverage of the German elections at https://apnews.com/hub/germany-election



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