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German Election Heralds Messier Politics and Weaker Leadership After Merkel – The New York Times

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Preliminary results indicated an outcome so tight that it could take months of talks to form a new government at a critical moment for Europe.

BERLIN — After 16 years of Angela Merkel as their chancellor, Germans scattered their votes across the political spectrum on Sunday in the election to replace her, a fractured return that heralds a messier political era in Germany and weaker German leadership in Europe.

Preliminary official results gave the center-left Social Democrats a lead of 1.6 percentage points, an outcome so close that no one could yet say who the next chancellor would be nor what the next government would look like.

The only thing that seemed clear was that it would take weeks if not months of haggling to form a coalition, leaving Europe’s biggest democracy suspended in a kind of limbo at a critical moment when the continent is still struggling to recover from the pandemic and France — Germany’s partner at the core of Europe — faces divisive elections of its own next spring.

Sunday’s election signaled the end of an era for Germany and for Europe. For over a decade, Ms. Merkel was not just chancellor of Germany but effectively the leader of Europe. She steered her country and the continent through successive crises and in the process helped Germany become Europe’s leading power for the first time since two world wars.

Her time in office was characterized above all by stability. Her center-right party, the Christian Democratic Union, has governed in Germany for 52 of the 72 postwar years, traditionally with one smaller party.

Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

But the campaign proved to be the most volatile in decades. Armin Laschet, the candidate of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, was long seen as the front-runner until a series of blunders compounded by his own unpopularity eroded his party’s lead. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic candidate, was counted out altogether before his steady persona led his party to a spectacular 10-point comeback. And the Greens, who briefly led the polls early on, fell short of expectations but recorded their best result ever.

On Sunday, the Christian Democrats’ share of the vote collapsed well below 30 percent, heading toward the worst showing in their history. For the first time, three parties will be needed to form a coalition — and both main parties are planning to hold competing talks to do so.

“It’s so unprecedented that it’s not even clear who talks with whom on whose invitation about what, because the Constitution does not have guardrails for a situation like that,” said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, the Berlin-based vice president of the German Marshall Fund, a research group.

Even before the first official returns were announced, the battle lines were drawn as both main contenders to succeed Ms. Merkel as chancellor announced their claims to the top job — and their intention to fight for it. A long tradition of deferential, consensus-driven politics was quickly evaporating, giving way to a more raucous tone.

At the headquarters of the Social Democrats in Berlin, loud cheering erupted when the first exit polls were announced. “The S.P.D. is back!” Lars Klingbeil, the party’s general secretary, told the crowd of party members, before Mr. Scholz took the stage with his wife and insisted “that the next chancellor is called Olaf Scholz.”

Across town, at the conservative headquarters, Mr. Laschet, the candidate of Ms. Merkel’s party, made clear who he thought the next chancellor should be, saying, “We will do everything to form a government.”

Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

It is a messy set of circumstances likely to complicate the negotiations to form a government. And whoever ends up being chancellor will have not just a weaker mandate — but less time to spend on leading in Europe, analysts said.

“Germany will be absent in Europe for a while,” said Andrea Römmele, dean of the Hertie School in Berlin. “And whoever becomes chancellor is likely to be a lot more distracted by domestic politics.”

With two-thirds of the voting districts counted, the Social Democrats appeared to have a slight lead, with less than two percentage points dividing the two main parties. Analysts said the vote could continue to swing marginally in favor of either party. Four in 10 Germans voted by mail-in ballots, which were being counted at the same time as votes dropped into ballot boxes.

But few anticipated a dramatic turn that would yield a less murky outcome and alleviate the need for protracted coalition talks.

The outcome gives significant leverage to the two smaller parties that are almost certain to be part of any new government: the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. Courted by both Mr. Scholz and Mr. Laschet, they have signaled they will first talk among themselves.

“Two Maybe-Chancellors and Two Kingmakers,” read one headline of the German public broadcaster ARD.

Lena Mucha for The New York Times

In one way Sunday’s returns were an expression of how disoriented voters are by the departure of Ms. Merkel, who is leaving office as the most popular politician in her country.

The chancellor oversaw a golden decade for Europe’s largest economy, which expanded by more than a fifth, pushing unemployment to the lowest levels since the 1980s.

As the United States was distracted by multiple wars, Britain gambled its future on a referendum to leave the European Union and France failed to reform itself, Ms. Merkel’s Germany was mostly a haven of stability.

“She was the steady hand at the helm, the steady presence,” said Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff of the German Marshall Fund.

“Now there is an uneasiness about what comes next,” he said. “The presence and reputation of this chancellor is outsized and very hard to emulate.”

That explains why both main candidates to succeed her mostly ran on platforms of continuity rather than change, attempting where possible to signal they would be the one most like the departing chancellor.

“This election campaign was basically a contest for who could be the most Merkel-like,” Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff said.

Even Mr. Scholz, whose center-left party is the traditional opposition party to Ms. Merkel’s conservatives, played up his role as finance minister in the departing government rather than his own party’s sensibilities, which are well to the left of his own.

Lena Mucha for The New York Times

“Stability, not change, was his promise,” said Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff.

The distinctive political tradition of the Federal Republic of Germany is change through consensus.

In the four decades it was split from the Communist East, West Germany had strong governments, traditionally formed by one of the two larger parties teaming up with a smaller partner or, in rare circumstances, the two big parties forming a grand coalition. This tradition was continued after reunification in 1990, with far-reaching changes — like the labor market reforms of the early 2000s — often carried out with support from across the aisle.

But four parties have become seven and the two traditional main parties have shrunk, changing the arithmetic of forming a government that represents more than 50 percent of the vote. In the future, analysts say, three or four, not two, parties, will have to find enough common ground to govern together.

Some analysts say this increasing fragmentation of Germany’s political landscape has the potential to revitalize politics by bringing more voices into the public debate. But it will no doubt make governing harder, as Germany becomes more like other countries in Europe — among them, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands — that have seen a similar fracturing. And messier politics could make the next chancellor weaker.

Ms. Merkel has embodied the tradition of consensus more than perhaps any of her predecessors. Of her four terms in office, she spent three in a grand coalition with her party’s traditional opponents, the Social Democrats.

Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

Governing as Ms. Merkel’s junior partners almost killed the Social Democrats, Germany’s oldest party, stripping it of its identity and its place as the leading voice of center-left opposition. But Mr. Scholz used his cozy relationship with the chancellor to his advantage, effectively running as an incumbent in a race without one.

At party headquarters on Sunday night, he was being celebrated as a savior by party members who were adamant that the chancellery was theirs.

“The S.P.D. is the winner here,” insisted Karsten Hayde, a longtime party member, while Ernst-Ingo Lind, who works for a parliamentarian, said that only a year ago, he would “not have dreamed of being here.”

Among the parties represented in the next German Parliament is the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which shocked the nation four years ago by becoming the first far-right party to win seats there since World War II. Its vote share slipped to 10.5 percent from almost 13 percent in 2017 and it will no longer be the country’s main opposition party. But it solidified its status as a permanent force to be reckoned with. In two states in the former Communist East it came first.

“We are here to stay, and we showed that today,” Tino Chrupalla, co-leader of the party, told party members gathered on the outskirts of Berlin.

For all the messiness of this election and Merkel nostalgia, many Germans took heart from the fact that more than eight in 10 voters had cast their ballots for a centrist party and that turnout was high.

Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

The mobilization was palpable outside several polling stations in Berlin, where families patiently waited their turn in long lines.

“It’s the beginning of a new era,” said Ms. Römmele of the Hertie School.

Christopher F. Schuetze, Jack Ewing and Melissa Eddy contributed reporting from Berlin.

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Biden says United States would come to Taiwan’s defense

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The United States would come to Taiwan‘s defense and has a commitment to defend the island China claims as its own, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday, though the White House said later there was no change in policy towards the island.

“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” Biden said at a CNN town hall when asked if the United States would come to the defense of Taiwan, which has complained of mounting military and political pressure from Beijing to accept Chinese sovereignty.

While Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, it has long followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

In August, a Biden administration https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-position-taiwan-unchanged-despite-biden-comment-official-2021-08-19 official said U.S. policy on Taiwan had not changed after the president appeared to suggest the United States would defend the island if it were attacked.

A White House spokesperson said Biden at his town hall was not announcing any change in U.S. policy and “there is no change in our policy”.

“The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo,” the spokesperson said.

Biden said people should not worry about Washington’s military strength because “China, Russia and the rest of the world knows we’re the most powerful military in the history of the world,”

“What you do have to worry about is whether or not they’re going to engage in activities that would put them in a position where they may make a serious mistake,” Biden said.

“I don’t want a cold war with China. I just want China to understand that we’re not going to step back, that we’re not going to change any of our views.”

Military tensions between Taiwan and China are at their worst in more than 40 years, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said this month, adding that China will be capable of mounting a “full-scale” invasion by 2025.

Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedoms and democracy.

China says Taiwan is the most sensitive and important issue in its ties with the United States and has denounced what it calls “collusion” between Washington and Taipei.

Speaking to reporters earlier on Thursday, China’s United Nations Ambassador Zhang Jun said they are pursuing “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan and responding to “separatist attempts” by its ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

“We are not the troublemaker. On the contrary, some countries – the U.S. in particular – is taking dangerous actions, leading the situation in Taiwan Strait into a dangerous direction,” he said.

“I think at this moment what we should call is that the United States to stop such practice. Dragging Taiwan into a war definitely is in nobody’s interest. I don’t see that the United States will gain anything from that.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington, Michelle Nichols in New York and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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Do climate politics really matter at the local level? A Seattle professor thinks so – knkx.org

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The changing climate is a topic you’d think would be front and center in local elections – especially after the heat wave that killed hundreds of people in the Northwest this summer.

A professor of politics at the University of Washington noted a lack of attention to the issue – until he and a colleague pushed for a debate about it in Seattle.

Aseem Prakash

Aseem Prakash directs the school’s Center for Environmental Politics. In July, he wrote about his amazement that none of the candidates seemed to care about the climate. Instead, their focus – as with candidates in New York City – is on crime, policing and, lately, homelessness.

And when you ask them how we’re truly adapting to climate change, the candidates either pass the buck and say some other jurisdiction is ultimately responsible, Prakash says. Or they talk about pilot programs for this and that.

And there are lots of pilot programs, he says. But he doesn’t see any Seattle mayoral candidates — or past mayors — following up with data that would help keep them accountable. Instead, he says, most seem to use a local office, like mayor or city councilmember, as a stepping stone at the beginning of a career in politics — or toward something else more lucrative.

“At some point, all of us, we have to call out the B.S. You have to call out the B.S. and force politicians to confront the issues that affect us,” he says.

“Because there’s a program for everything, right? … Is it really helping?” Prakash wonders.

“Do we have data that the heat island effect in Seattle has improved over the years because there are programs? Have we evaluated how effective these programs are? No. … So then what’s the point? This is what you call ‘virtue signaling.’” 

Prakash says there are too many pledges and not enough action. Accountability is missing. Most people aren’t getting help with things like cooling their homes during heat waves or getting electric cars that are affordable and reliable.

Everybody wants to be a global leader, (to) talk about the future generation. It’s a moral responsibility,“ Prakash says, with a note of frustrated sarcasm in his voice.

“But you ask them, ‘OK, can you please translate it in the context of my humble census tract, my ZIP code? What does climate change mean for my ZIP code? Why should I care?’ ”

These are issues that students and professors from departments all over the University of Washington want to come together to discuss and attempt to solve, as they relate to climate change.

This interdisciplinary approach is why Prakash founded the Center for Environmental Politics seven years ago. The debate is co-hosted by the UW’s EarthLab.

“A Climate Conversation with Seattle Mayoral Candidates” is free and open to the public via Zoom. It takes place Friday evening from 5 to 6 p.m. You can register here.

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Factbox-Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch

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Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, spent a night in hospital but returned to Windsor Castle on Thursday.

Here are some facts about the 95-year-old queen:

PRINCESS:

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born at 17 Bruton St, London W1, on April 21, 1926, and christened on May 29, 1926, in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace.

After her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 for the love of a divorced American woman, the queen’s father, George VI, inherited the throne.

Two years after World War Two, she married navy Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, a Greek prince, whom she had fallen for during a visit to a naval college when she was just 13.

QUEEN

She was just 25 when she became Queen Elizabeth II on Feb. 6, 1952, on the death of her father, while she was on tour in Kenya with Prince Philip.

She was crowned monarch on June 2, 1953, in a ceremony at London’s Westminster Abbey that was televised live.

MOTHER AND WIFE

Philip was said to be shattered when his wife became queen so soon.

Her marriage to Philip, whom she wed when she was 21, stayed solid for 74 years until his death in April 2021.

Their children are Charles, born in 1948, Anne, born in 1950, Andrew in 1960 and Edward in 1964.

MONARCH

Winston Churchill was the first of her 14 British prime ministers.

As head of state, the queen remains neutral on political matters. The queen does not vote.

SOVEREIGN

Elizabeth, who acceded to the throne as Britain was shedding its imperial power, has symbolised stability. Her nearly 70-year reign is the longest of any British monarch.

A quiet and uncomplaining dedication to the duty of queenship, even in old age, has earned her widespread respect both in Britain and abroad, even from republicans who are eager for abolition of the monarchy.

OFFICIAL TITLE IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

Her Majesty Elizabeth II, By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

COMMONWEALTH

The Queen is head of state of 15 Commonwealth countries in addition to the United Kingdom. She is also head of the Commonwealth itself, a voluntary association of 54 independent countries.

DIFFICULT TIMES

The 40th anniversary of her accession, in 1992, was a year she famously described as an “annus horribilis” after three of her four children’s marriages failed and there was a fire at her Windsor Castle royal residence.

The death of Princess Diana, the divorced wife of Elizabeth’s son and heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, in 1997, damaged the family’s public prestige.

Charles’ younger son, Harry, and wife Meghan said in an explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey earlier this year that one unidentified royal had made a racist remark about their first-born child. The couple had stepped back from royal duties in early 2020 and moved to the United States.

 

(Writing by Michael Holden and Kate Holton; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Peter Cooney)

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