Two cheers for Merkel

Updated on: Sep 25, 2017

While winning a record fourth term, she has to reckon with a new challenge, the hard-right AfD

As results from Germany’s tightly fought election flashed around the world, it swiftly became clear it was a case of, ‘Do you want the good news first or the bad news?’ The good tidings were that Germany’s Iron Chancellor Angela Merkel, a beacon of stability in a volatile world, had won a fourth term. But even Merkel confessed immediately, “We don’t have to beat around the bush. We had hoped for a slightly better result.” Merkel’s conservatives won 33 per cent of the vote, down 8.5 points from last time, while coalition partner the Social Democrats also lost ground heavily and announced it wouldn't be part of the next government. That leaves Merkel with the ‘Jamaica’ option — a coalition between her Christian Democrats and its sister party, the Christian Socialists, with the pro-business Free Democrats and the Greens. (It’s called the ‘Jamaica’ option as it would be sewn together in the Jamaican flag’s hues — the CD’s colours are black, the Free Democrats yellow, and the Greens — obviously green). It’s an alliance essayed at the local but never at the national level.

The big winner and unwanted guest at the table is the hard-right Alternative For Germany (AfD). Formed in 2013 as an anti-Euro party, it’s morphed into a rhetoric-spewing anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim party. It bridles when it’s compared with the Nazis but its leaders have hit the headlines with a string of incendiary statements. Sounding much like Donald Trump, they want a border force to hermetically seal Germany from immigrants beating at its door and one leader even suggested shooting illegal immigrants seeking to enter. The AfD’s deputy leader, Alexander Gauland, has also touched a raw nerve in urging Germans to be proud of their second world war soldiers, declaring the country has atoned for its Nazi past. The AfD with 94 seats will be the third-largest party in the over 700-seat Bundestag. Merkel’s avowedly humanitarian policies have resulted in over 1.3 million immigrants entering Germany since 2015, almost all from Muslim countries. Oddly, the AfD picked up much support from regions comprising former East Germany, even though those areas have fewer immigrants.

While the AfD faces bitter infighting between its extreme and more moderate wings, on a wider canvas it’s clear far-right parties are muscling their way back onto the political scene across Europe, shaking the post-war consensus that’s dominated for over seven decades. France’s Front National, the Austrian Freedom Party and the Dutch Freedom Party have all enjoyed surges of populist voter support. Partly, they appeal to voters alarmed by the flood of refugees but they’re also a product of uncertain economic times caused by new technologies. These uncertainties have already led to Trump’s rise in the US and Brexit in the UK. India should step up its ties with Germany because Merkel keeping a steady hand on the tiller is good for the entire world.

Published on January 10, 2018

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