German Greens mull top candidate for landmark post-Merkel election

Co-leaders of Germany's Green party Annalena Baerbock (L) and Robert Habeck pose after a press conference in Berlin, Germany 19 March 2021. [EPA-EFE/FILIP SINGER]

The German Greens will decide later this month which of their two co-leaders to put forward as their candidate to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel in September’s landmark election, the party said on Wednesday (7 April).

The centre-left party, which current polling suggests could be catapulted into government later this year, said it will choose either Annalena Baerbock or Robert Habeck as chancellor candidate on 19 April, with final approval left for a party congress in mid-June.

Both leaders have expressed interest in leading the party into the election but have repeatedly said they will come to a consensus agreement between themselves before going public. Polls suggest Baerbock, 41, is the narrow favourite among voters.

The Greens’ imminent decision follows months of buoyant poll ratings. Currently polling at 22% nationwide, the party is now second only to Merkel’s ruling Conservative bloc.

If confirmed at the ballot box, that vote share would position the Greens to enter government after September, either as junior partner in a coalition with the Conservatives, or possibly at the head of a new coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

The Greens current success comes as voters abandon Merkel’s party in droves over the government’s botched handling of the pandemic. The Christian Democrats (CDU) and Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), currently stand at a combined 27%, down from 35% in January.

Since then, voters have grown increasingly frustrated by an excruciatingly slow vaccine roll-out coupled with a painful third wave of coronavirus infections. Voter anger was focused last month by revelations that several Conservative lawmakers had used the pandemic to enrich themselves.

The slump in support for the CDU/CSU bloc, which has dominated German politics for decades, comes as it continues to dither over naming its joint candidate to lead it into September’s election – the first of the post-Merkel era.

The choice, expected before 23 May, is between CDU leader and Merkel ally Armin Laschet, and Bavarian heavyweight Markus Soeder, head of the CSU. Laschet, a supporter of Merkel’s open-door immigration policy, would symbolize continuity in both style and substance.

Bavarian state premier Soeder, however, who is second to Merkel in nationwide approval ratings, is seen as a solid bet with the electorate to lead the bloc into the first poll in 16 years without the crisis-hardened chancellor at the helm.

Annoyance with the government’s handling of the pandemic is also hurting the SPD, which is currently in coalition with the CDU/CSU at the national level. The party, which has put forward Finance Minister Olaf Scholz as chancellor candidate, is struggling on just 16%.

Also struggling is the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). Trailing at 11% in the polls, down from an all-time high of 19% September 2018, the anti-immigrant party has so far failed to harness the untamed energy of recent anti-lockdown street protests.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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