Merkel wins but empowers a monster
Angela Merkel handily won the German elections today but also empowered a monster that has already upended domestic politics and could disrupt liberal democracy for years.
Her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) are expected to take around 34 per cent when results are finalized, followed by the Social Democrats (SPD) with about 22 per cent. Each has lost about nine points compared with the last elections.
The big winner was the hard-right – some say neo-Nazi – Alternative for Germany (AfD) party that could score about 13 per cent, up from just 4.7 per cent in 2013.
For the first time in 60 years, the hard right will enter the parliament. Worse, it may have 88 seats, making it the third most powerful force in German politics at the national level.
It is already a formidable force at local levels, where it sits in the parliaments of 13 out of 16 states.
Led by Alice Weidel, 38, a lesbian former banker from Goldman Sachs, the AfD rejects the neo-Nazi label but reportedly tolerates swastika-toting anti-Muslims and racists at rallies and quietly seeks their support. It is also anti-gay.
For Germany, with its troubled history, this is bad news. To prevent the AfD from becoming the main opposition, Merkel’s chief coalition partner, the SPD, immediately declared it will stay outside to be leader of the opposition.
So, Merkel has a serious problem on her hands. CDU is likely to win about 220 seats followed by the SPD with about 140. That leaves her with little choice but to partner both with the very liberal Greens and FDP, their probusiness ideological opposite.
If the SPD stays out, no other combination gives her the necessary numbers for a majority in the Bundestag (national parliament).
In effect, Germany’s admirably stable CDU-led system cannot avoid heading into storms because the identity of the smaller parties depends on their ideological purity and refusal to make compromises for political expediency.
Merkel’s negotiation skills will be sorely tested in coming days as she struggles to put together a reliable coalition to rule under her leadership. Then she will have to fight her way through myriads of little and big arguments during her term in power.
Weidel will surely beat her war drums at every turn because as the third power in German politics her acolytes will be in every important parliamentary committee.
Analysts are putting the blame for the AfD’s unprecedented triumph at Merkel’s door because she encouraged an influx of nearly one million Syrian refugees into Germany in 2015-2016. That gave Weidel the cudgels to strike telling blows in the elections.
Speaking after the exit polls, Merkel was already succumbing to the right wing’s pull. She promised to win back voters she lost to the AfD by getting tough on “illicit immigration” and “internal and domestic security”.
“There’s a challenge facing us for the future, and that is that the AfD has made it into parliament,” she said.
AfD leader Alexander Gauland retorted, “The government, whatever it will look like, should get ready for tough times. We’ll chase them. We’ll take back our country and our people.”
The AfD was created in 2013 by opponents of the European Union and giving more money to bail Greece and others out of debt. In 2015, Weidel leapt at the refugee issue that rocketed her to leadership and the party’s current electoral successes.
She repeatedly attacked Merkel saying that Germany “has become a safe port for foreign criminals,” especially Islamic criminals and called for prisons in northern Africa for deported “criminals” from those countries.
She wants to withdraw Germany from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and abolish current laws on asylum for refugees. She would ban minarets over German mosques and punish Muslim women for wearing head scarves.
Political correctness belongs on the “garbage heap of history,” she claims.
Such ideas are anathema to the majority of Germans but the election victory gives her a bully pulpit from which to scald opponents and entice fence-sitters.
The ever-courteous Merkel may have to do some bare-knuckled fighting in coming months and years.