WORLD Merkel de­fends lead­er­ship legacy

Viet Nam News - - FRONT PAGE -

HAM­BURG — Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel yesterday of­fered a staunch de­fence of her mod­er­ate course dur­ing 18 years as party leader, as her Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union chose be­tween a loyal deputy and a long­time ri­val to suc­ceed her.

Ac­cept­ing a lengthy stand­ing ova­tion from del­e­gates, many tear­ful and hold­ing “Thanks, boss” plac­ards aloft, a vis­i­bly moved Merkel said the party had won four na­tional elec­tions un­der her by hold­ing fast to its prin­ci­ples.

“In dif­fi­cult times we shouldn’t for­get our Chris­tian and demo­cratic stance,” she said.

Point­ing to the rise of pop­ulism world­wide and what she called a break­down of shared West­ern val­ues, Merkel said the or­der she had cham­pi­oned was at risk.

“Whether it’s the re­jec­tion of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, the re­turn to na­tion­al­ism, the re­duc­tion of in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion to deal-mak­ing or threat­ened trade wars... hy­brid war­fare, destab­li­sa­tion of so­ci­eties with fake news or the fu­ture of our EU — we Chris­tian Democrats must show in the face of all these chal­lenges what we’ve got,” she said.

The two main can­di­dates, CDU gen­eral sec­re­tary An­negret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, known as AKK, and cor­po­rate lawyer Friedrich Merz are locked in a bat­tle over whether to em­brace or break with the vet­eran chan­cel­lor’s legacy.

A third con­tender, Health Minister Jens Spahn, 38, an out­spo­ken critic of Merkel’s 2015 de­ci­sion to wel­come more than one mil­lion asy­lum seek­ers to Ger­many, is run­ning a dis­tant third.

Merkel sur­prised the coun­try and her party in late Oc­to­ber when she an­nounced she would not seek re­elec­tion as CDU leader at the party con­fer­ence in Ham­burg af­ter a se­ries of poll set­backs rooted in con­tro­versy over her liberal refugee pol­icy.

The con­test’s out­come is ex­pected to be cru­cial in de­cid­ing whether the in­flu­en­tial leader can re­alise her stated goal of com­plet­ing her fourth term in 2021 and then leav­ing pol­i­tics.

“I hope we emerge from this party con­fer­ence welle­quipped, mo­ti­vated and united,” Merkel said. “I am con­fi­dent we will suc­ceed.”

Merkel has led Ger­many since 2005, and moved her party steadily to­ward the po­lit­i­cal cen­tre. More gen­er­ous fam­ily leave, an exit from nu­clear power and an end to mil­i­tary con­scrip­tion are among her sig­na­ture poli­cies.

While Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, 56, is viewed as sim­i­lar to Merkel with an even tem­per and mid­dle-ofthe-road poli­cies, Merz, 63, has be­come the torch­bearer for those seek­ing a more de­ci­sive break from the chan­cel­lor.

This week, Merz — who has in­sisted in the face of wide­spread scep­ti­cism that he could work well with Merkel — won the back­ing of pow­er­ful for­mer fi­nance minister Wolf­gang Schaeu­ble, now the par­lia­men­tary speaker.

Both men are seen as har­bour­ing long­stand­ing grudges against the chan­cel­lor, af­ter she thwarted Schaeu­ble’s am­bi­tion to be­come Ger­man pres­i­dent and Merz’s de­sire to re­main CDU par­lia­men­tary group leader sev­eral years ago.

“The Merkel era is pal­pa­bly com­ing to an end,” politi- cal jour­nal­ist and AKK bi­og­ra­pher Kristina Dunz said. “Merz could be tempted to see his re­venge and lunge for power (as soon as next year).”

Na­tional broad­sheet Sued­deutsche Zeitung said Schaeu­ble’s move sig­nalled that the CDU’s long-fes­ter­ing di­vi­sions, thinly veiled by unity be­hind Merkel, could well break out in the open af­ter the con­fer­ence.

“The CDU of the Merkel years is fall­ing apart,” it said. “Op­pos­ing camps are form­ing.”

Few ob­servers have dared to pre­dict how the 1,001 del­e­gates — po­lit­i­cal and party of­fice hold­ers — will vote.

AKK is be­lieved to have Merkel’s strong back­ing but much will de­pend on how deep and wide­spread the long­ing is for a more con­ser­va­tive pro­file.

Who­ever wins will face tow­er­ing chal­lenges for the party, which is cur­rently draw­ing roughly 30 per cent at the polls, far be­low the around 40 per cent it en­joyed dur­ing Merkel’s hey­day.

It has bled sup­port to the right, in the form of the up­start anti-im­mi­gra­tion Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many party, and to the resur­gent Greens on the left. — AFP

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