Germany: The German Government proposes holding the elections on September 26, 2021 | International

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel after a press conference in June last year.TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP

The end of the Merkel era is already dated. The German government has proposed that general elections be held on September 26, 2021, a date that has yet to be approved by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. This is an exceptional call, marked by the pandemic, but also because it is the first elections since 2005 that Chancellor Angela Merkel does not attend. The election of a new German Chancellor will mark the future of the country and of a European Union in which Berlin marks the step.

The head of the German Government already announced two years ago that she will retire when she runs out of her current term, the fourth, next fall. Merkel says goodbye high in popularity after 15 years of government. And it does so leaving behind a political scenario plagued with uncertainties and without a clear successor in the center-right party that has dominated for three decades.

A government spokeswoman confirmed this Wednesday that the Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, has agreed with the Länder and with political formations the date of the convocation for next fall, which must now be promulgated by the president. Elections are held every four years, as indicated in article 39 of the German Constitution, which establishes a temporary window for the convocation.

The race for Merkel's succession is now wide open. The puncture in February of the appointment of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as a candidate in the conservative bloc was followed by the outbreak of the pandemic. The virus has forced a postponement of the succession process in the center-right, which remains stagnant. Next January, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) plans to finally hold a party congress, in which they will presumably elect a new president and candidate for chancellor.

The management of the pandemic in a country that so far has fared better than its surroundings has reinforced the support of citizens for the CDU, to which polls give around 37% of the intention to vote. It is not at all clear, however, that this support will continue the day Merkel ceases to be the candidate. Above all, because none of the three candidates for the succession has just convinced the voters and because two souls coexist in the party. On the one hand, those who defend continuing the line set by Merkel and on the other, the more disruptive and conservative current that aspires to return the party to its supposed essences.

Starting this week, the three candidates in the running – Friedrich Merz, Armin Laschet and Norbert Rötgen – will hold virtual meetings with party members to defend their candidacy. The pandemic prevents face-to-face encounters with the militants, which further complicates the succession race. Whoever wins, must redefine the contours of a party blurred by a chancellor catch all, which has centered his party until it becomes almost unrecognizable.

Meanwhile, in the shadows and without finishing revealing if he plans to aspire to the chancellery, the Bavarian Prime Minister, Markus Söder, leader of the conservative CSU, is gaining support, according to the polls. It remains to be seen if he finally decides to run and if the CDU accepts a candidate for chancellor from the ranks of his Bavarian sister party.

The only ones who already have a clear candidate are the Social Democrats, a minority partner in the current government's grand coalition. Olaf Scholz, the centrist Finance Minister, is the headliner of a party that has not just come back and to which the polls give only 16% of the votes. “In the last 16 years, the two parties (CDU and SPD) have become what AfD (the far right) calls parties of the system. The great challenge for us now is to find our profile, and mark how we distinguish ourselves from the CDU ”, says a Social Democratic source.

Sanitary cord

The surprise can come, however, the Green Party, the environmental party, which has accumulated high popularity for months and has yet to decide which of its two charismatic leading swords – Robert Habeck or Annalena Baerbock – will lead the candidacy.

Meanwhile, Alternative for Germany, (AfD), cannot come back, mired in a trail of internal crises, but above all misplaced in this pandemic crisis in which voters value efficient management in the face of bombastic rhetoric. AfD aspires to make a political profit on social frustration, which is expected to increase as a result of the economic effects of the pandemic. With close to 10% in voting intention – in the 2017 elections they obtained 12.6% – they have no possibility of being part of any government coalition, in a country that until now has maintained a tight sanitary cordon to the extreme right.

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