Merkel's election chances lifted by CSU's support

BERLIN • German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Bavarian ally yesterday said it supported her candidacy in a coming general election, despite her rejection of its demand to cap the number of refugees that the country takes in each year.

"We enter the election campaign together," Mr Horst Seehofer, head of the Christian Social Union (CSU), told reporters, after a two-day summit with Dr Merkel.

The Chancellor, standing by his side, said both the CSU and her Christian Democrats (CDU) agreed that the influx of more than one million migrants in 2015-2016 should not occur again.

By winning her Bavarian ally's endorsement to run for a fourth term, Dr Merkel has removed a potential source of conflict within her bloc ahead of Germany's election on Sept 24. Uniting behind Dr Merkel as a joint candidate is needed for the Chancellor's CDU-led bloc to run a nationwide campaign as she seeks to extend her more than 11 years in office.

The endorsement comes as support for the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), Germany's second- biggest party, surges, with a poll last week suggesting it has narrowed its poll gap to the smallest in almost five years.

Though the CSU and CDU - sister parties - usually campaign together in national elections, their unity had been in doubt after Mr Seehofer split with Dr Merkel over her refugee policy.

The CSU is demanding an annual limit on migration, which Dr Merkel has rejected on humanitarian and legal grounds.

More than a million people, including hundreds of thousands from war-torn Syria, have arrived in Germany since the Chancellor opened the country's doors to those fleeing conflict and persecution in 2015.

Although the number of arrivals has slowed significantly in recent months, the influx has deeply divided Germans and fuelled a surge in support for the right-wing, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party (AfD).

Fresh from a European Union summit overshadowed by the defiant stance of the new US administration under President Donald Trump towards Europe, Dr Merkel, 62, faces stiff domestic competition.

A poll by Insa for Bild newspaper released yesterday said the SPD would beat Dr Merkel's conservatives if an election were held today, showing that the centre-left party was still building on its positive momentum after electing former European Parliament president Martin Schulz as leader.

The SPD, Dr Merkel's junior coalition partner, has been trailing the conservatives for years in opinion polls and last won an election under Mr Gerhard Schroeder in 2002. The Insa poll put the SPD on 31 per cent, and the conservatives on 30 per cent. The populist AfD was projected third with 12 per cent, followed by the hard-left Die Linke on 10 per cent.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2017, with the headline 'Merkel's election chances lifted by CSU's support'. Print Edition | Subscribe