Saturday, October 23, 2021

In pictures: Germany’s Angela Merkel faces rough ride

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German chancellor Angela Merkel’s only problem is that her victorious conservatives lost fewer votes than expected and may need a snap election.

How Angela Merkel, the longest-serving leader in post-war Germany, will fare has become one of the most pressing questions in Europe, where the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election to the White House have highlighted the continent’s deep divisions.

Is Angela Merkel preparing to face another election? Read more

Though she won a comfortable win, the national elections on Sunday saw her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at a record low of 34.1% of the vote. It was the party’s lowest result since 1949, three years before Adolf Hitler came to power.

It won 13.3 million votes, an increase of 0.8 million votes but a fall of more than half a million more than three years ago. The CDU came second in the state elections in Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, despite a surge in support for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

On Monday the chancellor said it would be “a bad result” if her party failed to win 40% of the vote. “What we are doing is a strong mandate. The signals are important,” she said. “All we can do now is to try and work together for a government.”

Merkel faces making choices between coalition partners. Before Sunday’s vote, she had indicated she was not in favour of a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats (SPD), who won 23.8% of the vote.

The chancellor, 62, governed with a “grand coalition” with the SPD between 2005 and 2009 but was forced out of office because of a budget crunch that forced her to call new elections. The centre-left party is seen as being damaged by a string of poor performances in the polls and has said it will not do a “second-best” deal.

Mesut Özil, the German national team player, said in a statement on Sunday that Germany’s “sinking politics” were an insult to the country’s sportsmen. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

She currently leads an awkward “Jamaica” government of three of the four centre-right parties that are in parliament – she chairs the ruling “Jamaica” alliance with her Bavarian counterpart, Horst Seehofer, a former CSU party leader, and the Free Democrats (FDP).

The two smaller parties have said they will refuse to take part in any government unless Merkel runs as chancellor again.

How much time will the German chancellor be able to put together a coalition government? On one level the current uncertainty is partly down to an opinion poll carried out by weekly magazine Stern.

A report in the Guardian showed that 57% of Germans did not know that their chancellor was leading a “jamaica” government.

The party relying most on alternative voters for its narrow victory, the Free Democrats, have done so before. The FDP’s success in a state election in Lower Saxony in 2011 was a result of getting about a third of the vote from those not on the AfD. But it suffered badly at a general election in 2013, and eventually collapsed, leaving a patchwork of coalition alliances.

A similar sort of coalition, with the CDU and FDP ruling at the lowest level possible, has been possible for Germany before. And, as the list above shows, these have frequently been with the SPD and Greens at the helm.

While Merkel has emphasised the need for compromise in forming a government, the political polarisation is clearest in the AfD. Its surge in support has been fuelled by angry and disillusioned voters feeling left behind by the eurozone debt crisis. The party, which uses the motto of “against all above all” to appeal to its anti-establishment base, rose to 14.3% of the vote on Sunday.

A declaration by the Germany national football team star Mesut Özil at the team’s World Cup parade through Berlin on Sunday noted how Germany’s “sinking politics” were an insult to its sporting heroes

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