Bruised by cri­sis, Merkel faces dif­fi­cult elec­tion

Lin­ger­ing ran­cor over open-door mi­grant pol­icy

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ger­many’s mass refugee in­flux may have abated, but the fears and ten­sions it stoked loom large as a weak­ened Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel is ex­pected to lead her party into a tough elec­tion year. When her Bavar­ian al­lies the CSU kick off the 2017 cam­paign sea­son with a party congress to­mor­row, Merkel, for the first time in her 16 years at the helm of the rul­ing CDU party, won’t be on the guest list.

Merkel’s ab­sence is a sign of the lin­ger­ing ran­cor over her open-door mi­grant pol­icy that brought al­most 900,000 asy­lum seek­ers to Europe’s top econ­omy last year, most of them pass­ing through Bavaria. At the height of the in­flux, Merkel en­dured a hu­mil­i­at­ing, al­most 15-minute dress­ing down on the stage of the CSU congress by its leader, Bavar­ian state pre­mier Horst See­hofer.

While Merkel’s wel­come to refugees won her many plau­dits, it also stoked deep anx­i­eties and boosted a new party to the right of the arch-con­ser­va­tive CSU-the pop­ulist Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD). Rail­ing openly against mi­grants, Is­lam and the es­tab­lish­ment par­ties, the AfD is the dark horse in the Septem­ber 2017 elec­tion and cur­rently polling at around 12 per­cent.

It only nar­rowly missed Ger­many’s five-per­cent hur­dle for en­try into par­lia­ment in 2013 and has since won op­po­si­tion seats in 10 of Ger­many’s 16 state assem­blies. The CSU, not to be out­done in talk­ing tough on im­mi­gra­tion, wants Ger­many to fa­vor mi­grants from the “Chris­tian-oc­ci­den­tal cul­tural sphere”, ban full­face Is­lamic veils and set an up­per limit of 200,000 refugees a year-a de­mand Merkel has con­sis­tently re­jected.

‘Still in front’

Merkel has not yet of­fi­cially de­clared her can­di­dacy but is ex­pected to do so at a CDU congress in De­cem­ber, after which the CSU is likely to bury the hatchet and throw its weight be­hind her for a fourth term. The tra­di­tional sis­ter par­ties have “more sim­i­lar­i­ties than dif­fer­ences”, CDU sec­re­tary gen­eral Peter Tauber in­sisted Wed­nes­day. “Mutti” (Mummy) Merkel’s long stel­lar poll rat­ings took a heavy hit amid the back­lash against the refugee in­flux-es­pe­cially as sex­ual crimes com­mit­ted by North African men and ji­hadist at­tacks by Syr­i­ans stoked deep pop­u­lar fears.

How­ever, sup­port for Merkel has nudged back up as mi­grant num­bers have fallen and Ger­many has tight­ened asy­lum rules, with some 300,000 ar­rivals pro­jected for all of this year. Merkel’s ap­proval rat­ing, which had plum­meted to a five-year low in Septem­ber, this month bounced back nine points to 54 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey by Deutsch­landTrend.

“Merkel is weak­ened but still in front, with no se­ri­ous chal­lengers in her own con­ser­va­tive ranks” or dan­ger­ous ri­vals in the op­po­si­tion camp, said Os­kar Nie­der­mayer of Berlin’s Free Univer­sity. On cur­rent trends-as the refugee cri­sis grad­u­ally loses its ur­gency in vot­ers’ mind­sher CDU again looks set to be the strong­est party, the po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist said, warn­ing how­ever that a lot can hap­pen in a year.

‘Red-red-green’

Among the cen­tre-left So­cial Democrats (SPD), lead­ing fig­ures still fear that go­ing headto-head with Merkel is a po­lit­i­cal sui­cide mis­sion. The last man who tried, gaffe-prone for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter Peer Stein­brueck, suf­fered a sting­ing de­feat in 2013. He gave his farewell speech to par­lia­ment last month, with plans to work as a con­sul­tant for a large bank. The next SPD can­di­date for Ger­many’s top job is ex­pected to be Sig­mar Gabriel, cur­rently Merkel’s vice chan­cel­lor and econ­omy min­is­ter in a right-left ‘grand coali­tion’.

Like Merkel, Gabriel is yet to de­clare his can­di­dacy on be­half of the SPD, which is polling in the low 20-per­cent range, and Euro­pean par­lia­ment pres­i­dent Martin Schulz has also been men­tioned as a pos­si­ble can­di­date. The SPD­fac­ing the threat of op­po­si­tion, or of again play­ing se­cond fid­dle to Merkel’s con­ser­va­tives in a love­less grand coali­tion-has started flirt­ing with the idea of join­ing forces with other left­ist par­ties in­stead. — AFP

— AFP

BERLIN: Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel (3rd L) gives a press con­fer­ence at the Chan­cellery in Berlin as she is handed over the an­nual re­port on the coun­try’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment by mem­bers of the Ger­man Coun­cil of Eco­nomic Ex­perts.

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