Germany: Merkel takes a hammering at the polls
German voters are punishing Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Derek Scally in The Irish Times(Ireland). In Berlin state elections this week, her Christian Democratic Union came in second with a paltry 17.6 percent of the vote, the party’s worst result ever in the German capital, and was knocked out of a ruling coalition with the center-left Social Democrats, who won 21.6 percent. The anti-immigrant, populist Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, took 14.2 percent, the biggest share for the far right since World War II. The CDU’s slump in Berlin follows four other losses, including its total trouncing earlier this month in Merkel’s home state of Mecklenberg-Vorpommern, where it placed third behind the AfD. Voters are upset over Merkel’s open-door policy toward refugees, which allowed more than 1 million migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to pour into the country last year. Germany’s welcome “cooled rapidly” after some asylum seekers sexually assaulted women in German cities on New Year’s Eve, and others were linked to ISIS terrorist plots. Now many CDU voters have themselves migrated—to the far right.
That pummeling at the polls forced a chastened Merkel to admit to error, said Eva Quadbeck in the Rheinische Post(Germany). “If I could,” she said at a meeting of CDU leaders, “I would turn back time by many, many years so that I could better prepare myself and the whole government [for] the situation that caught us unprepared in the late summer of 2015.”Crucially, she promised that she would never again allow such a flood of migrants to enter Germany. But don’t mistake Merkel’s regret for capitulation, said Uwe Lueb in SWR.de. She came to the CDU meeting to fight. Dressed in bright red instead of her usual pastels, she defended her policies of “humanity and strength” clearly and forthrightly. Despite intense pressure from Horst Seehofer, the leader of the CDU’s more conservative Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, she refused to commit to an upper limit for the number of refugees that Germany would accept. Instead she admonished Seehofer, saying “responsible politicians” should watch their language so they don’t promote far-right ideas.
We can’t judge Merkel’s popularity by Berlin alone, said Roland Nelles in Der Spiegel(Germany). The city is notoriously poorly governed—it takes months just to get a driver’s license replaced— and “all establishment parties did poorly” there. In fact, Merkel could well win a fourth term in next year’s national elections. Her party is still nearly 10 points ahead of its nearest rival, the Social Democrats, and she has no serious challenger for the leadership of the CDU. Most important, “the refugee issue is already losing some of its immediacy,” as a deal with Turkey has slowed the influx to a trickle and states are slowly finding housing for the migrants already here. Merkel is a strong leader and a savvy politician. “Betting against her would be an extremely risky wager.”