News Analysis: Merkel faces challenges despite having upper hand in upcoming elections

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German Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel one day after state elections during a party leadership meeting in Berlin, Germany, March 27, 2017. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

By Ren Ke : –

BERLIN, Aug. 30 (Xinhua) — It’s only less than a month before the Germen federal elections day on September 24.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is leading in polls. But the overall situation in Germanyis not so good as ordinary people believe. The long-term and sustainable solutions for refugee issues, and the rise of right-wing populism, among other difficult issues, need to be addressed by Merkel and the German government.

To some extent, Germany is enjoying some best times after the 2008/2009 financial crisis. Its economy keeps gaining momentum for growth, its export is robust, and economic think-tanks keep raising their expectations of Germany’s GDP growth rates. Employment is booming, as Merkel in her campaign outline vowed to achieve full employment by 2025.

The sound economic situation made the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) enjoy its upper hand against the Social Democrats (SPD), a center-left party traditionally representing workers and employees and always paying attention to social justice.

But in its coalition with SPD, Merkel’s center-right Union has addressed a series of issues concerning social justice and showed center-left political stances, including supporting a welfare state and legal minimum salaries, and turning off Germany’s nuclear power plants. SPD has also been accused of lacking difference between itself and the Union in both domestic and foreign issues.

The latest polls showed that Merkel’s CDU and its Bavarian sister Christian Socialist Union has quite a big leading edge in the support rate listings. The Forsa announced Wednesday that 38 percent of respondents would vote for the Union if the next Sunday were the Federal elections day, 14 percentage points higher than that of SPD led by Martin Schulz.

However, another issue that voters care the most, security, is quite controversial. Many German people feel that the society is no longer as safe as before, and the country are now vulnerable to sporadic terror attacks.

When it comes to security, refugee issues have to be mentioned, as some media has called as the Achilles’ Ankle for Merkel. Since the summer of 2015, over 1 million refugees from the Middle East and North Africa poured into Europe, and Germany accommodated the most refugees in European Union.

Although the refugee crisis has passed with a dropped number of new refugees, and Germany managed to handle the social and economic impacts brought by over one million of refugees, but it is true that some terrorists also entered Germany and launched a series of attacks here.

Merkel admitted part of failure of the refugee policy and made some adjustments last year, however, she, on various occasions, including the summer press conference on Tuesday and several election campaigns, defended her decisions in 2015, and said refugees are welcome but the year 2015 would not repeat.

Merkel on Tuesday called for a long-term and sustainable solutions to refugee issues, and accused Germany’s EU partners of not pulling their weight.

But Germany also needs to do more to send failed asylum seekers back home and help those succeed integrating into a new and strange society, taking into consideration of both its people and the people of its European partners.

As the federal elections are coming and all parties are going all out for election campaigns, the refugee issues have been mentioned more than usual. Despite a cool-down of this issue, in a Europe facing increasing unpredictable lonely-wolf attacks, observers are concerned about a swing of voters’ attitude if major perpetrations take place before the federal elections.

Challenges brought by the far-right Alternatives fuer Deutschland (AfD) is another issue to be addressed. Gaining momentum during the refugee crisis, the anti-immigrant and anti-euro populist party now has become the third strongest party in terms of support rates, according to authoritative polling results, around 10 percent, far above the threshold of 5 percent for a party to be elected into the Bundestag.

AfD always draws criticism and the latest one is that Alexander Gauland, one of the two AfD candidates in the federal elections, last weekend called for “disposing” Aydan Oezoguz, integration commissioner of the federal government, back to Turkey.

Most of major politicians in Germany do not like AfD. Merkel ruled out any forms of cooperation with the party and accused Gauland’s remarks as racist, and Schulz called AfD a shame.

But the party does have popularity among underdogs of the society and in less-developed eastern Germany states. Last week in an election campaign event in Quidlingberg in Saxony-Anhalt, Merkel was interrupted by thousands of AfD supporters for several times when the Union candidate for chancellery was defending her refugee policy in 2015.

Dr. Stephen Broechler, a political scientist on German and comparative government at Humboldt University Berlin, told Xinhua that for a long time in the future the AfD won´t be part of the government. No party in the German Bundestag will form a coalition with the AfD.

“The AfD will penetrate German parliamentarism, polarize party competition and make political debates more fierce,” said Broechler.

Merkel said last week that she will win back all supporters from AfD and spared no efforts to persuade doubters that her refugee policy was right.

However, as Merkel also admitted, the process was not easy and would be a long-term one.

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