Merkel set for tainted vic­tory

Sunday Star-Times - - WORLD - The Times

An­gela Merkel is set for a bit­ter­sweet vic­tory in elec­tions to­day, with Ger­man vot­ers ex­pected to grant her a fourth term as chan­cel­lor but also to in­stall a na­tion­al­ist party in par­lia­ment for the first time in 60 years.

Polls sug­gest that the far-right Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD) party could win up to 60 seats – about 10 per cent of the to­tal – with im­mi­gra­tion the big­gest is­sue of the elec­tion. The party has vowed to con­tinue hound­ing Merkel over her de­ci­sion to ad­mit more than a mil­lion asy­lum seek­ers to the coun­try.

The AfD’s call for an of­fi­cial in­quiry into whether Merkel broke Ger­man law re­ceived a boost yes­ter­day from a re­port in the con­ser­va­tive daily news­pa­per Die Welt that a non­par­ti­san Bun­destag com­mit­tee had con­cluded that the de­ci­sion to open the coun­try’s bor­ders should have been put to MPs.

Merkel is ahead in the polls but her lead is un­likely to be large enough to en­sure an over­all ma­jor­ity. Coali­tion talks could last for weeks or even months.

This week, at one of her last cam­paign ral­lies, in Ham­burg, where she was born, she showed her ap­pre­hen­sion about a po­ten­tial late surge by the AfD as she ap­pealed to vot­ers to shun the pop­ulist party.

Alexan­der Gauland, the AfD co­can­di­date for chan­cel­lor, hor­ri­fied Merkel and many other Ger­mans this week with a call to the na­tion to be proud of the ac­tions of Ger­man soldiers in the two world wars.

Some on the left in Ger­many have cas­ti­gated Merkel for the rise of the AfD. ‘‘Merkel de­serves to be voted out. She bears the re­spon­si­bil­ity for Nazis en­ter­ing the Bun­destag,’’ wrote Jakob Aug­stein, a com­men­ta­tor for the left-lean­ing Der Spiegel mag­a­zine.

If the AfD man­ages to fin­ish third in the elec­tion, it will pile pres­sure on Martin Schulz’s SPD party to rule out a re­peat of the cur­rent ‘‘grand coali­tion’’ with Merkel’s CDU, be­cause that would make the AfD the main op­po­si­tion party in the Bun­destag. That brings with it priv­i­leges such as the chair­man­ship of the pow­er­ful bud­get com­mit­tee.

Merkel and the lead­ers of all the es­tab­lished par­ties have ruled out form­ing a coali­tion with the AfD.

Re­search by polling com­pany In­frat­est dimap sug­gests that im­mi­gra­tion has be­come the top elec­tion is­sue in Ger­many for the first time since it started its sur­veys in 1998. In all, 44 per cent of re­spon­dents said it was their big­gest con­cern.

Merkel’s strength lies in ap­peal­ing to all age ranges, with 39 per cent of Ger­mans aged 18 to 24 back­ing her, well in ex­cess of the 22 per cent opt­ing for Schulz.

An­gela Merkel

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