Armin Laschet, the top candidate of conservative Christian Democratic Union in North Rhine-Westphalia and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend an election rally in Aachen, Germany, at the weekend. Picture: REUTERS
Armin Laschet, the top candidate of conservative Christian Democratic Union in North Rhine-Westphalia and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend an election rally in Aachen, Germany, at the weekend. Picture: REUTERS

Armin Laschet boosted his chances of succeeding Angela Merkel as German chancellor by securing a decisive victory in the country’s poorest state.

In the final regional contest before the national vote in September, the 60-year-old party leader showed he can successfully guide the Christian Democrats in a tight campaign. The outcome will help ease doubts about his suitability to lead Germany’s conservatives and take on the job of running Europe’s biggest economy.

The CDU halted its slide in recent elections on Sunday, winning 37% of the ballots in Saxony-Anhalt, up more than seven percentage points compared with the last vote in 2016, according to preliminary results. The far-right Alternative for Germany, which was pushing for the lead in some recent polls, dropped more than three points to a distant second in the former communist region with 21%.

In the run-up to the vote, Laschet appealed to the state’s mainstream voters to back the CDU, saying it was important to defend democracy from the anti-immigrant AfD. It was enough to gain a significant edge in Germany’s unsettled political landscape as the Merkel era draws to a close.

“The national CDU under Armin Laschet now has the momentum on its side,” said Holger Schmieding, the London-based chief economist at Berenberg. “The concern that Laschet may be a hindrance rather than a help should be deflated.”

Laschet became the leader of Merkel’s CDU in January and stumbled out of the gate with the party suffering its worst-ever results in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in March.

That set up a messy power struggle with Bavarian ally Markus Soeder for the right to be the bloc’s candidate for chancellor. While Laschet prevailed, he emerged bruised.

After Sunday’s result, Laschet can turn with renewed confidence to tackling the Greens and their candidate Annalena Baerbock, his main rival to lead Germany.

The environmental party’s momentum has stalled in recent weeks, and the trend was underscored by a smaller-than-expected gain in Saxony-Anhalt, which could cost the party its role in the state’s government.

“We gained but not as much as we’d hoped,” Baerbock, the 40-year-old co-leader of the Greens, said on ARD television.

Germany’s political establishment, meanwhile, can breathe a sigh of relief. A victory by the AfD would have been the right-wing party’s first on the state level, triggering complex political manoeuvring to keep them out of the regional government.

Instead, Reiner Haseloff, the CDU’s state premier, has a range of choices to form a coalition for a third term. His current government consists of a three-way alliance with the Social Democrats and the Greens. He could replace the Greens with the pro-business FDP, which has also been gaining support nationally, or govern with the SPD alone with a razor-thin majority.

“If the AfD had become the strongest force it would have been catastrophic for our reputation and we had to prevent that together,” Haseloff said Monday in an interview with ARD before heading to Berlin for talks with Laschet and other national party leaders.

“This is really the message I want to take with me to Berlin,” he added. “That what has been possible in Saxony-Anhalt is also possible for the whole of Germany.”

Bloomberg News. For more stories like this visit bloomberg.com

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