October 6, 2018 / 3:07 PM / 2 months ago

Merkel calls for end to conservative in-fighting to halt poll slide

KIEL, Germany (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday that the conservatives must end their in-fighting to reverse slides in the polls before two regional elections this month.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures as she delivers remarks following her meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) sister party have struggled to maintain a united front on immigration policy and the fate of the scandal-hit domestic intelligence agency.

Polls indicate the CSU will lose its absolute majority in the Bavarian parliament in an election in the southern state on Oct. 14, bleeding support to the ecologist Greens and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Support for Merkel’s CDU is also projected to fall, to around 29 percent, in an election in the state of Hesse two weeks later. The party won 10 percentage points more in the election five years ago in Hesse, where it governs with the Greens.

“I know that through our dispute we have contributed to making the polls look as they do,” Merkel told the CDU/CSU youth wing in a speech in the northern city of Kiel. “Voters don’t appreciate it if we argue and they don’t even understand what we’re arguing about.”

Merkel’s authority has been waning since an inconclusive election in September last year that produced the worst result for her conservatives since 1949.

Her first attempt to form a government with the Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) was unsuccessful, forcing her to turn to the center-left SPD to secure a fourth term.

She had to make painful concessions to the SPD, including ceding the prized finance ministry, to get the party to reverse its decision to be in opposition and join the government as coalition partners.

She has since faced calls from her own party to name a successor.

The CDU/CSU youth wing on Saturday demanded a constitutional amendment to limit the number of terms that a chancellor can serve to three.

Merkel rejected this idea, saying it would breach the constitutional rights of lawmakers to have the freedom to vote for any chancellor candidate they want.

SEEHOFER TO STAY ON

Merkel’s coalition has been lurching from one crisis to another.

In the summer, CSU leader and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer brought the government to the brink of collapse with a threat to turn back migrants at the border with Austria if they had already applied for asylum elsewhere in the European Union.

Seehofer’s hardline on immigration has not helped his to CSU reverse a slide in support in Bavaria, the main gateway for migrants coming to Germany.

Voters in the wealthy state appear to be unimpressed with his anti-immigration rhetoric.

Those opposed to Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open Germany’s borders to some one million, mainly Muslim asylum seekers, are turning to the AfD.

Yet others are leaving the CSU for the Greens, who are projected to become the second-biggest party in Bavaria on Oct. 14.

Seehofer, the loudest critic of Merkel’s liberal immigration policies, on Saturday ruled out giving up his post as CSU leader after the election, vowing to stay on until the end of his term next year.

Asked by the Welt am Sonntag newspaper if he would stay, he said: “Of course! I have a big project to complete.”

Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Andrew Bolton

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