Voters punish Merkel allies with constituency losses

Angela Merkel's centre-right CDU-CSU bloc sunk to a historic low in Sunday's vote, their worst election showing in post-war German history.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) waves on stage as leader of Germany's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and candidate for Chancellor Armin Laschet (L) speaks on stage at the CDU headquarters after the estimates were broadcast on television in Berlin on 26 September 2021 after the German general elections. Picture: John MACDOUGALL/AFP

BERLIN - The German conservatives' historic election drubbing was all the more bitter Monday after some of Chancellor Angela Merkel's closest allies lost their constituencies in stunning local upsets - the defence and economy ministers among them.

Merkel's centre-right CDU-CSU bloc sunk to a historic low in Sunday's vote, their worst election showing in post-war German history.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, from Merkel's centre-right CDU-CSU bloc, was defeated by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas from the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) in a duel for the district of Saarlouis.

In the same state of Saarland, Defence Minister and former CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer lost her Saarbruecken constituency, also to a rival from the SPD, the party that narrowly won Sunday's general election.

Merkel's chief of staff and close confidant Helge Braun suffered the same fate in Giessen in the western state of Hesse.

Under Germany's complex electoral system, which sees voters tick a box for their constituency candidate and another one for their preferred party, MPs who lose a direct mandate still have a chance to stay in the parliament thanks to the overall number of seats allocated to their party.

But the ignominy of losing several high-profile direct mandates adds to the pain for conservatives, who came second in Sunday's tight race with 24.1 percent of votes, trailing SPD's 25.7 percent.

Their showing casts a shadow on Merkel's political retirement after 16 years in power, exposing the veteran leader to criticism that she failed to properly prepare her succession.

The SPD even flipped Merkel's own constituency on the Baltic coast, taking a seat Merkel had held uninterrupted since 1990.

Her would-be conservative successor, Georg Guenther, was soundly beaten by 27-year-old Anna Kassautzki, who was promptly dubbed "Merkel's heir" in local media despite hailing from a competing party.

There was better news for CDU heavyweight Wolfgang Schaeuble, the country's parliamentary speaker and former finance minister, who defended his seat for the 14th consecutive time.

Merkel's old conservative foe Friedrich Merz is set to make his parliamentary comeback after snatching a direct mandate from an SPD candidate.

Health Minister Jens Spahn from the CDU, who has been steering the country through the coronavirus pandemic, easily held onto his seat in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

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