MUNICH — The leaders of Germany’s ruling conservative parties on Monday said Angela Merkel’s government had to up its game in handling the coronavirus, following heavy defeats in regional elections just months before the country chooses a new chancellor.
Markus Söder, leader of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), described Sunday’s election losses as “a wake-up call.”
Armin Laschet, head of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), declared at a press conference in Berlin: “I expect the federal government to do a good job.”
Laschet tried to push the blame for the government’s woes onto the junior coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). He lashed out at Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the SPD candidate for chancellor, who made headlines earlier this month by suggesting as many as 10 million Germans could be vaccinated per week by the end of March, a claim the government later refuted.
Laschet and Söder are the two leaders most likely to become the CDU/CSU’s pick for chancellor and to succeed Merkel in the role — if the party can hold onto power in a general election in September. Currently, they lead Germany’s two most populous states — Laschet in North Rhine-Westphalia and Söder in Bavaria.
Laschet argued part of the reason for the CDU’s poor performance on Sunday was the popularity of the regional government leaders in the two states that voted — the Greens’ Winfried Kretschmann in Baden-Württemberg, and the Social Democrats’ Malu Dreyer in Rhineland-Palatinate. In both states, the CDU attained its worst-ever results.
But Laschet still insisted Germany “must get better regarding coronavirus management,” suggesting an electorate exasperated with the pandemic would continue to punish the CDU in the ballot boxes.
Similarly, Söder told a press conference in Munich that the federal government’s coronavirus management was to blame for voters turning their backs on the CDU.
The outcome came amid eroding trust in the government over the slow pace of COVID-19 vaccinations and a lockdown that has lingered since November. The CDU and CSU have also been ensnared in a corruption scandal spreading through its ranks.
Söder warned that Sunday’s defeats meant that there could now “theoretically be majorities” after September’s election that would not include “the union” of CDU and CSU, raising the possibility that Merkel would be succeeded by someone from a different party.
Laschet said Merkel’s government would now have to deliver in the months remaining until the election.
“Every minister should work well in his or her department, but not [interfere with] others who have a difficult job to do at this time,” Laschet said, suggesting vaccine policy should be left in the hands of Health Minister Jens Spahn, a close CDU ally.
Asked whether Sunday’s elections would have an effect on when the CDU/CSU will officially choose its chancellery candidate, Laschet and Söder both said everything would continue as previously agreed.
“It’s between Easter and Pentecost — nothing has changed in this respect,” Laschet said, adding that that did not mean the decision would be delayed until Pentecost, which is May 23 this year. Easter is April 4.