2021: The totally crazy election year

Status: December 28, 2021 5:31 p.m.

Chancellor Scholz? This assumption caused laughter even in the summer. Union candidate Laschet laughed too, but at the wrong moment. Non-Chancellor candidate Habeck is now Vice Chancellor and the FDP is changing sides.

By Hans-Joachim Vieweger, ARD capital studio

Anyone who relied on Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the beginning of 2021 was usually laughed at tiredly – his SPD was just 15 percent in the polls. Betting shops saw the probability that the party would win the federal election to be close to zero. The result is well known: Scholz has been Chancellor since December 8th.

Hans-Joachim Vieweger
ARD capital studio

But back to the beginning: It was clear from the start that this election year would be different. There would be a new Chancellor – or a new Chancellor. Angela Merkel announced her withdrawal after 16 years. Never before had a Chancellor voluntarily given up his position.

Friedrich Merz, known not to be a Merkel friend, recalled this in January when he made the second attempt to become CDU chairman. But Merz lost again – this time against Armin Laschet. Which quickly raised the question of the Union’s candidate for chancellor. Laschet still waited. He was aware of the particular challenge – after all, the last North Rhine-Westphalian to hold the Chancellery was none other than Konrad Adenauer: “I already know what is connected with this office,” said the NRW Prime Minister.

Baerbock’s mistake

But first of all, the Greens nominated a candidate for Chancellor, a first in the party’s history. The Greens were on the rise, at times they were able to overtake the Union in the polls. Annalena Baerbock prevailed against Robert Habeck in her party quite noiselessly. The polls climbed to 28 percent.

But then Baerbock stumbled – due to late reported additional income, inaccuracies in the curriculum vitae and allegations of plagiarism. And also because of the unprofessional handling of the allegations by the Greens. In the ARD she admitted, referring to the inaccuracies in the résumé: “That was obviously very sloppy. I am very, very sorry.” The polls for the Greens fell, meanwhile the CDU / CSU were clearly ahead.

Turbulent weeks at the Union

But the Union also experienced difficult days – mainly because the fight for the candidacy for chancellor is much less silent than with the Greens. CDU party leader Laschet and CSU leader Markus Söder fought a power struggle on the open stage. The polls clearly spoke in favor of Söder. He wanted to bow to the will of the CDU, said Söder and at the same time made it clear: “In case of doubt, I am ready to accept such a candidacy.”

It went back and forth violently until the CDU leadership finally agreed on Laschet – against many votes from the Bundestag faction and against the position of most of the CDU prime ministers. The CSU continued to be offended for months, and Laschet was repeatedly poked from Munich.

Hardly anyone expected Scholz

In contrast to the Union, the Social Democrats, who are usually so open to discussion, were very quiet during these months. The SPD had already chosen its candidate for chancellor a good year before the federal election – completely amicable, without a dispute they agreed on Olaf Scholz. But when you look at the polls, hardly anyone expected him to be Chancellor.

In the state elections in Saxony-Anhalt on June 6, the SPD was even single-digit. Lars Klingbeil, at that time still general secretary of the SPD, encouraged his party: The election in Saxony-Anhalt had nothing to say for the upcoming federal election.

The strong result for CDU Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff in Magdeburg initially strengthened Laschet’s position – the Union now comes to almost 30 percent in surveys. FDP leader Christian Lindner said: “I see it as almost certain that the government education mandate will go to the CDU.” And of course: Lindner wants to be part of a possible Union-led government – at this point in time he feared that it might be enough for black-green.

Even that would be a defeat for the Greens, after the soaring in the polls. Baerbock was combative and emphasized: “Everything is completely open. It is unclear who will be ahead in the end.”

Laschet laughs

In retrospect, that turned out to be correct, but different from what she thought. It wasn’t the flood disaster in Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia itself that turned the mood, but a short laugh at the wrong time. While Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave consolation to the flood victims, a joking NRW Prime Minister and Union Chancellor candidate could be seen in the background. “Unsuitable, inappropriate” was his laugh, said Laschet shortly afterwards. And further: “I am annoyed about it – and I am sincerely sorry.”

Scholz makes the “Merkel diamond”

But the polls for the Union plummeted. The question of whether Laschet is the right candidate for chancellor has been asked again. There was even speculation about changing the candidate at short notice. Meanwhile, the polls for the SPD rose slowly but steadily. Scholz makes the “Merkel diamond” in the “SZ-Magazin”, which in turn outraged Söder: The CSU chairman spoke of “inheritance sneaking”.

Merkel’s hands, Merkel’s diamond.

Image: AFP

From chancellors and circus directors

Merkel herself stayed out of the election campaign for a long time. It was only when Scholz did not want to rule out a coalition with the Left Party that she took a clear position for Laschet. That distinguishes her from Scholz, she said in the Bundestag at the beginning of September. The SPD chancellor candidate remained almost emotionless and reminded of the “Scholzomat” of yore, there was also talk of the “Teflon Scholz” because everything apparently ran off the SPD chancellor candidate. Scholz only said: “I am applying for a position as chancellor, not as a circus director.”

Then finally came September 26th. Even if a head-to-head race between Scholz and Laschet seemed possible in the first prognoses, it soon became clear: Scholz won the election: with 25.7 percent, his SPD ended up ahead of the Union, which came in at 24.1 percent. The Greens ended up in third place, disappointing after the euphoria in the first few months of the year.

In the beginning there was a selfie

Scholz saw a clear government mandate for his SPD. But talks between the various parties were still pending. Not only a traffic light coalition was mathematically possible, but also a Jamaica alliance of the CDU, Greens and FDP, theoretically even the continuation of the grand coalition.

The leaders of the Greens and FDP made the start – and a joint selfie caused a sensation: Baerbock and Habeck posed together with Lindner and Volker Wissing and gave the signal: Without us there will be no government in Berlin in the future. So much self-confidence went too far, the SPD parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich: Germany does not need photos, but a government that actively accepts the upcoming challenges.

The selfie of the election year: Wissing, Baerbock, Lindner, Habeck.

But the traffic light quickly took shape: exploratory talks turned into coalition negotiations. They are “factually oriented” and “constructive”, as it was said again and again. In terms of content, hardly anything leaked out.

Perhaps this confidentiality was one of the reasons why the traffic light project succeeded – unlike Jamaica in 2017. The SPD, Greens and FDP will present a joint coalition agreement at the end of November. With a historical reminiscence of Willy Brandt’s “Dare More Democracy”, the heading was now “Dare to make more progress”.

Scholz becomes the ninth Chancellor of the Federal Republic

Scholz was elected Federal Chancellor during St. Nicholas Week. He had made it – contrary to so many expectations at the beginning of the year: He is the ninth Chancellor of the Federal Republic, and thus the fourth Social Democrat in this office – after Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schröder.

And the Green candidate Baerbock? She won’t become Chancellor, but she will at least become Foreign Minister. She had to leave the office of Vice Chancellor to her party colleague Habeck.

Laschet is now just a member of the Bundestag – as announced, he resigned his office as Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia. And in January his one-year term of office as CDU federal chairman will also end. The party base determined Friedrich Merz as his successor.

2021: a strange election year

Hans-Joachim, Vieweger, ARD Berlin, 27.12.2021 · 12:05 p.m.


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