(Bloomberg) — If Angela Merkel sees out her fourth term as German chancellor, fear may likely play a greater role than political skill.
Merkel’s Christian Democrats have been plagued by a fierce leadership struggle and the Social Democrats, her junior coalition partner, are toying with the idea of exiting the coalition. Yet with the surge in popularity of the Greens and the far-right AfD, the risk of triggering a snap election and handing victory to the opposition looms large and may keep the coalition afloat for some time.
“The risks associated with new elections increase the incentive for the coalition partners to try and stagger on,” said Carsten Nickel, managing director at consultancy Teneo Intelligence in London.
Bolstered by co-leader Robert Habeck and growing concerns about climate change, the Greens have emerged as a serious political force, drawing level with Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc in some polls this year.
Habeck is more popular in Germany than Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the conservative party’s embattled leader who forced a confidence vote at a national convention last month amid concerns over her ability to win elections. In a nationwide Nov. 9 opinion survey carried out by polling firm Forsa, only 14% backed the CDU leader for chancellor in a head-to-head matchup with Habeck.
The AfD too set its sights on a role in government, fueled by the recent election of a pair of government critics to lead the Social Democrats. The goal is to appeal to a wider swathe of voters and take advantage of the stumbles of the mainstream SPD and CDU.
“We’re experiencing a political rupture,” said Joerg Meuthen, part of the leadership team of the AfD. “The old people’s parties are in decline. The Greens are on the ascendancy on one side, and us on the other,” he told journalists at the party convention in Braunschweig last weekend.
Tino Chrupalla, a 44-year-old tradesman from former communist East Germany who was elected party chief at the convention, said the party didn’t need “drastic language” to win conservative voters who feel abandoned by Merkel’s bloc. Chrupalla enjoys support from the AfD’s extreme-right wing faction.
The party is on the far-right of the political spectrum with a strong anti-immigration and Euro-sceptic stance. It emphasizes conservative themes such as lower taxes and reforms to pension systems but will hold a convention in April to decide on a social-policy platform.
In the run-up to its own party convention on Friday, the SPD leadership has dismissed calls for an immediate departure from the alliance with Merkel and watered down a wish list that the CDU would almost certainly have rejected.
Delegates at the three-day conference in Berlin are expected to close ranks behind their new leaders Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken and give them a mandate to negotiate a way forward. That could buy time, but it won’t end the strife in the coalition unless teh ruling parties can pull off a turnaround in opinion polls, said Nickel.
“I would expect continued noise and mini-crises” until campaigning for the next scheduled election kicks in a year from now, he said.
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