BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) expressed concern on Monday at the scale of the party’s defeat in the former Communist East in Sunday’s federal election that marks the end of the rule of Angela Merkel, who grew up in the region.
The CDU had been the dominant political force in the former east for three decades since the party’s long-serving leader Helmut Kohl championed reunification in 1990 and promised voters in the deprived region “flourishing landscapes”.
The party’s popularity in the east continued after Merkel took over as chancellor in 2005, but had been waning since she opened the door to more than a million refugees in 2015, fueling the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Support for the CDU and its leader Armin Laschet, premier of the western region of North Rhine-Westphalia, collapsed further in Sunday’s election, with the party falling behind the Social Democrats in most eastern states.
The AfD is now the biggest party in the eastern regions of Saxony and Thueringen and the second-biggest in Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
“The losses have been particulaly drastic in the east,” Laschet told a news conference on Monday.
Paul Ziemiak, the party’s general secretary, was even more candid: “If I think about the east, I am floored by it.”
Nationwide, the Social Democrats (SPD) narrowly won Sunday’s election and its candidate for chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said on Monday he hoped to build a three-way coalition with the Greens and liberal Free Democrats by Christmas to replace the outgoing conservative-led government of Merkel.
(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Gareth Jones)