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Angela Merkel Wins Fourth Term as German Chancellor, but Far Right Rises

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Alexander Kurz / Wikimedia)

The good news is Angela Merkel made history last weekend by winning her fourth straight election as chancellor of Germany. The bad news is the anti-immigration nationalist party, AfD (Alternative fur Deutschland), made significant gains with a 13 percent showing, putting a far-right party in parliament for the first time in over 50 years. The AfD is now the third-largest voice behind Merkel’s CDU (Christian Democratic Union), and their Bavarian sister party, the CSU (Christian Social Union).

While the CDU has something to celebrate, it is that party’s worst showing since 1949, which means coalition building will be more difficult than ever. Here is a rundown of comments by German political leaders in Reuters:

Angela Merkel, CDU party leader, told supporters in Berlin: “Of course we had hoped for a slightly better result. But we mustn’t forget that we have just completed an extraordinarily challenging legislative period, so I am happy that we reached the strategic goals of our election campaign,” Merkel said.

“We are the strongest party, we have the mandate to build the next government—and there cannot be a coalition government built against us,” Merkel added.

Speaking during a television debate of the main parties’ top candidates, Merkel said: “Numerically, there are still two ways to form a coalition. Numerically, SPD and CDU/CSU have enough. The question of the responsibility that everyone has is not just theory but a practical question. … I have heard that the SPD is not available for talks, but we can talk about that again tomorrow.”

“We will sleep on it and then hold some talks. … I intend for Germany to have a stable government,” Merkel added.

Horst Seehofer, CSU leader and Bavarian Prime Minister, told broadcaster ARD: “We had a vacuum on the right side that we need to close now. The best way to do that is with policies that ensure that Germany remains Germany and that we have the immigration and security questions under control.”

Seehofer told broadcaster ZDF:

“The Christian Democrats will have to get together and explore whether a government is possible; we owe this to our country (…) We don’t want (a coalition) with the AfD or with the Left party, but all other democratic forces should at least speak to each other and explore what is can be achieved over the next years. But the CSU will not enter into any false compromises that would cement the division of our country.”

Alexander Dobrindt, a senior CSU member, said: “I believe for everyone in the government this is a bitter election night. But I think it is too early to draw conclusions—like the SPD.”

Thomas De Maiziere, senior CDU member and interior minister, said: “We all have responsibility for the country, we cannot say after six weeks that we need new elections because we didn’t manage (to form a coalition). … that would be the worst signal, then the Left and AfD would end up getting even more votes, and that would not be right.”

While the AfD remains isolated and its power limited, its unprecedented success in the election suggests the growing popularity of anti-immigrant fervor throughout the West. Nationalists were victorious in the U.S. with the election of Trump, and in the U.K. with the success of the Brexit vote, and although they haven’t won any major European elections, they are undoubtedly gaining ground there.

Marine Le Pen’s National Front lost to Emmanuel Macron in France earlier this year, despite leading the polls in the first few rounds, a first in the history of the party. And many fear that, should Macron’s policies fail, Le Pen will be back with a vengeance.

Even though Geert Wilders’ Party of Freedom lost a March election in Holland, the nationalist candidate picked up four seats in parliament. And in last December’s Austrian election, the Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer received 46.7 percent of the vote in a losing bid. Atlantic Council wrote the following about the rise of nationalism Europe:

“The strong showing by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in elections on September 24 is evidence of the fact that the nationalist wave remains a significant factor in Europe, according to the Atlantic Council’s Daniel Fried.

“The populist and anti-liberal wave, which many had optimistically concluded had crested and was in decline in Europe after the French, Dutch, and Austrian elections is still a significant factor in European politics,” said Fried, a distinguished fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Future of Europe Initiative and Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.

“The bottom line is that the election outcome is not the best, but it’s also not the worst,” said Fried, who, in his forty-year career in the Foreign Service, played a key role in designing and implementing US policy in Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union.”

The bourgeoning right-wing movement throughout Europe is attributed to sluggish economic growth, shrinking job opportunities and most of all the influx of millions of immigrants, notably from war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Syria. Al-Jazeera asked a number of Muslim immigrants in Germany what they thought of the election:

Derar Rashed, 25, from Syria—The refugee crisis opened the door for German people questioning inequality in the country. Some groups in society here really need a helping hand and the government isn’t supporting the poorer classes. When someone who is struggling sees a refugee wearing nice shoes, they become an easy scapegoat.

Merkel is not perfect, but she will enter the history books for her responses to refugees arriving in Europe. In Germany, the young are open minded and Merkel won so much support from them for how she handled the issue.

When other European leaders had their doors shut—or half closed—she kept them open. … America is not an idol any more. … When people ask where the liberty and freedom is you tell them, “Go to Germany.”

Eli Wael Khleifawi, 31, from Syria—Instead of shunning parties like the AfD, politicians should be engaging with their arguments and showing the public they are wrong. There is nothing to fear. Instead of seeing stories about refugees as if they are some species migrating from another planet, we should be hearing about them starting businesses, projects and assimilating.

You can feel the political divide between the old East and West getting stronger. In Eastern Germany, people feel economically left behind and that refugees have pushed them further into the margins. … In Berlin, it is getting verbal and outside the city, it is getting physical.

I can see where it is heading, but can’t vote and no one will listen to my opinions. It makes you feel hopeless.

Hava Morina, 17, from Kosovo–My whole family has been deported. This makes me particularly interested in what is happening in German politics. I want the family reunification policy to change. I don’t want my siblings to forget me: I want to grow up with them.

The German election affects refugees, but we have no vote. Other people vote on issues that affect us—it makes no sense.

Said Ali Hossin, 34, from Afghanistan—When refugees are in the media, it is when someone commits a crime. If we had a platform, we could also condemn this violence and say it doesn’t represent us.

We could highlight the positive work we are doing and contribute to political debates around integration. There are around a million of us in the country, many very well educated, and yet we are silenced.

Jordan Riefe
Contributor
After studying Mandarin in post-Mao China, Jordan got into the film business as a camera assistant working with directors like...
Jordan Riefe

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