Merkel launches elec­tion bid

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Essen, Ger­many

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel lashed pop­ulists seek­ing to ex­ploit Ger­many’s refugee in­flux on Tues­day, but set down a tough line on in­te­gra­tion — in­clud­ing a ban on the full-face veil — as she launched into elec­tion cam­paign mode.

Out­lin­ing a strat­egy to counter pop­ulism that has con­sumed key al­lies abroad, Merkel vowed there would be no re­peat of last year’s record refugee ar­rivals.

She also stressed it was le­git­i­mate for Ger­many to ex­pect new­com­ers to in­te­grate, and this in­cluded a re­jec­tion of the niqab full-face veil.

“The full veil must be banned wher­ever it is legally pos­si­ble,” she told the an­nual gath­er­ing of her cen­ter-right Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union, urg­ing them to back her bid for a fourth term.

Merkel was re­warded with a stand­ing ova­tion that lasted more than 11 min­utes as the ma­jor­ity of the 1,001 del­e­gates present ral­lied be­hind her.

But op­po­nents made their voices heard when del­e­gates were asked to re-elect Merkel as chief for the next two years, as the congress gave her just 89.5 per­cent — her sec­ond worst score, and the worst since she be­came chan­cel­lor in 2005.

Na­tional me­dia had sug­gested that a score be­low 90 per­cent would be a slap in the face.

Merkel, who has led Ger­many for 11 years, last month con­firmed she would run for a fourth term but ac­knowl­edged that the elec­tion would be “more dif­fi­cult” than any other she has con­tested.

Merkel’s CDU and its Bavar­ian sis­ter party Chris­tian

The full veil must be banned wher­ever it is legally pos­si­ble.” Angela Merkel, Ger­man chan­cel­lor

So­cial Union sailed to a de­ci­sive win of 41.5 per­cent at the last elec­tion in 2013 — its best re­sult since na­tional re­uni­fi­ca­tion in 1990, on the back of strong ap­proval for her tough stance on aus­ter­ity for debt­stricken EU na­tions.

‘Sim­ple answers’

Three years on, there are rum­blings of dis­con­tent — even within her own party — fol­low­ing her Septem­ber 2015 de­ci­sion to ad­mit refugees flee­ing war in mostly-Mus­lim na­tions, a move that deeply po­lar­ized Europe’s big­gest econ­omy.

There have also been ques­tions about whether the 62-year-old has fresh ideas to of­fer in a world up­ended by Brexit, the sur­prise elec­tion of Don­ald Trump and the de­par­ture of Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi fol­low­ing a crush­ing ref­er­en­dum de­feat cham­pi­oned by pop­ulists.

The CDU has seen set­backs in five con­sec­u­tive state polls as vot­ers pun­ished Merkel for her lib­eral refugee pol­icy, with more than a mil­lion peo­ple seek­ing asy­lum in Ger­many since 2015.

Merkel said next year’s poll will “not be a walk in the park” as Ger­many is deeply po­lar­ized, but urged the pop­u­la­tion to re­main “scep­ti­cal about sim­ple answers”.

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