Germany has been mired in political turmoil, and a regional vote on Sunday to give an early indication of the fallout.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s succession plan collapsed on February 10 when her chosen heir, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, unexpectedly announced she would resign as head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Voters in the city-state of Hamburg were going to the polls a day before CDU leaders are due to move forward with a plan to select a new party head. Whoever wins the post is likely to be the CDU candidate to run for chancellor in the next national election.
Germany’s political establishment was rocked this month after the CDU’s chapter in Thuringia cast its lot in with the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) to install the eastern state’s premier. The fallout sent shock waves across the nation and was the main catalyst for Kramp-Karrenbauer’s resignation.
To add to the sense of chaos, tensions around extremist activity in Germany intensified last week, when an assailant killed 11 people, including himself, in the city of Hanau near Frankfurt. Authorities said the lone gunman, a 43-year-old German national, was motivated by xenophobia. Merkel vowed to eradicate such racist “poison.”
In Thuringia, Merkel’s party sought to restore a semblance of stability by agreeing to support the re-election of the previous state premier, whose anti-capitalist Left party is anathema to the Christian Democrats at the national level.
The deal would avoid relying on AfD votes in the state legislature. The plan was clouded as several national CDU leaders, including former Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, raised objections, saying it would harm the party’s credibility.
Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city with 1.8 million inhabitants, has been led by the Social Democrats since 2011.