BERLIN — This weekend’s state election in Bavaria has been casting a long shadow over German politics for the past year — and the aftershocks could cause more turbulence for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s struggling national government.
Polls suggest that Bavaria’s centre-right Christian Social Union party, which has run the region for 61 years, is heading for its worst performance since the 1950s on Sunday. It appears to be losing voters on both the right and left despite enviable prosperity and unemployment at a rock bottom 2.8 per cent.
The CSU, which is socially conservative and has taken a hard line on migration, is unique to Bavaria and an important but often awkward sister to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. The two parties govern Germany in an infighting-prone coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats.
Though the CSU is unlikely to lose power in Bavaria altogether, a result like the one pollsters are forecasting would be humiliating. Speculation is rife that state party leader Horst Seehofer, Germany’s interior minister, could be forced out.
“The CSU has lost its cohesive power in Bavaria — it was able to win over voters from the right to the centre-left,” said Manfred Guellner, the head of the Forsa polling agency. “Now, because of its confrontational course with its sister party, with the chancellor, it has driven away the liberal centre.”
For decades, the CSU attracted voters from across the spectrum, standing for a combination of modernity and tradition encapsulated by the slogan “Laptops and Lederhosen.” It is used to holding an absolute majority in the state legislature and prides itself on punching above its weight in national politics.
Lately, that tradition has been evident largely in battles over migration between Seehofer and Merkel. Seehofer joined Merkel’s Cabinet in March after giving up his job as Bavaria’s governor to younger rival Markus Soeder following a long-running CSU power struggle.
“I can only say that voters don’t appreciate it, and we can see that in the polls, when we argue with each other and they don’t even understand what about,” Merkel said last weekend as she reviewed the year since Germany’s last national election.
In that vote, all three governing parties lost significant support and the far-right Alternative for Germany party entered the national parliament.
The CSU, with its eyes firmly on the Bavarian election, doubled down on tough talk about migration. That has divided Merkel and Seehofer since 2015, when Seehofer assailed her decision to leave Germany’s borders open as refugees and others crossed the Balkans.
Seehofer triggered the most serious crisis yet in Merkel’s fourth-term government, when the pair sparred in June over whether to turn back small numbers of asylum-seekers at the German-Austrian border. The argument briefly threatened to bring down the administration and end his party’s alliance with Merkel’s.
He played a starring role in a second crisis last month, doggedly backing the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency amid demands that he be removed for appearing to downplay recent far-right violence against migrants. Merkel’s governing coalition needed two attempts to reach a compromise.
Seehofer’s tactics have …read more