Merkel re-election in Germany all but certain; 4th-term challenges not
BERLIN | Six months ago, it looked like her job might be in jeopardy, but now Chancellor Angela Merkel is cruising to victory in Germany’s Sept. 24 vote, and the big question is what Europe’s dominant political leader plans to do with her mandate for a fourth term.
Although the vote is still a few weeks away, the polls — and many German voters — feel that Ms. Merkel already has won the race.
Her conservative Christian Democrats lead Germany’s second-largest party, the left-of-center Social Democrats, by almost 15 points. Analysts said that gap is far too large to bridge in just a few weeks.
But it already looks to be a minefield for the East Germany-born chancellor, who must contend with assertive Russian President Vladimir Putin to the east, the European Union’s internal problems and talks over Brexit, and the Trump administration, which poses an unprecedented challenge to traditional German foreign and economic policy goals.
Still, the campaign shows Ms. Merkel remains a master of the domestic political game.
“Merkel is still able to give people this feeling that she’s the nation’s mother and you don’t have to be afraid of things as long as she’s in charge,” said Olaf Boehnke, a senior adviser in Berlin with Rasmussen Global, a political think tank based in Brussels. He said a Social Democratic win is “absolutely not in the cards.”
The first and only televised debate between Ms. Merkel and Social Democratic leader Martin Schulz, a former head of the EU Parliament who at one time seemed a real threat to the chancellor, likely solidified her prospects.
More than 16 million Germans tuned in Sept. 3 and watched as the chancellor displayed her signature reserve while ably discussing such issues as refugees, domestic security and Berlin’s prickly relations with Turkey.
“We Germans have enjoyed the advantages of globalization,” Ms. Merkel said during the debate, “but we can’t be disconnected from the conflicts we see around us. We have to respond, which doesn’t mean that all people can come here, but we have to do more against the causes of these problems.”
After the 97-minute debate, German public broadcaster ARD found that 55 percent of respondents gave Ms. Merkel the win, as opposed to 35 percent for Mr. Schulz.
Ms. Merkel’s trademark low-key competence appears to be playing well with German voters despite a troubled third term. Her decision to allow large numbers of refugees from the Middle East and other world hot spots into the country in 2015 brought on severe strains.
The latest DeutschlandTrend poll gave Ms. Merkel’s CDU and its conservative sister party, the Christian Socialist Union, 37 percent of the vote, compared with 21 percent for the Social Democrats, setting the stage for yet another Merkel-dominated “grand coalition” government.
“It’s great that Merkel always tries to remain matter of fact and to conceal her emotions on certain matters,” said Hendrik Schwick, 21, a student of computer science at the University of Potsdam near Berlin. “It’s not the worst thing that she’ll be chancellor again.”