Merkel re-elec­tion in Ger­many all but cer­tain; 4th-term chal­lenges not

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY AUSTIN DAVIS

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.”

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