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Merkel and Her Successor Played Politics and Let Covid Run Wild – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit last month, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned her likely successor that the coronavirus pandemic might require tougher curbs. But Olaf Scholz brushed aside the proposal, and Germany is now paying the price. 

At the Rome meeting in late October, where Merkel introduced Scholz to other world leaders, she proposed convening the premiers of Germany’s 16 states to coordinate a response to rising Covid-19 infections. He dismissed it as unnecessary, according to people familiar with the discussions.

A lack of leadership in Europe’s largest economy has paved the way for the brutal outbreak and threatens to cloud the start of Scholz’s tenure, weakening him before his administration really gets started. The surge in infections is denting the public mood as Scholz prepares to assume control, fueling frustration with people sick of Covid restrictions and casting a pall over the prospects for economic recovery.

Behind the scenes, Scholz told Social Democratic state leaders not to join Merkel’s call for a meeting to discuss fresh pandemic curbs, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks were confidential. A spokesman for Merkel declined to comment, while spokespeople for Scholz didn’t immediately respond.

Instead, his party allies publicly waved off the need for nationwide restrictions, and the SPD joined with its prospective coalition partners, the Greens and the Free Democrats, to end emergency pandemic rules implemented by Merkel.

With little leverage to act after her party was voted out of office, Merkel let it go and a few days later was in the French wine-making town of Beaune, taking selfies and bumping fists with fans during a goodbye trip to President Emmanuel Macron. On Nov. 5, Germany’s coronavirus infection rate set a new record and hasn’t stopped rising since.

With Merkel on a farewell tour throughout much of the fall and Scholz haggling with his potential junior partners over policy details and ministerial posts, neither heeded the warnings and now Europe’s largest economy is in a full-blown crisis.

Just months after the pandemic seemed under control, German authorities are struggling to revive a stalled vaccination drive and discussing harsher curbs as infections surge to more than double the spring peak. Hospitals are already overflowing in hard-hit areas. 

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, the country’s public-health authority, had been warning of a fourth wave since the summer. But the pandemic doesn’t play well during a campaign, and so politicians pushed Covid to the sidelines for the Sept. 26 election and its aftermath. 

Scholz, who is putting the finishing touches this week on a ruling alliance, will be tested by that failure. By the time he’s sworn in in early December, infections in Germany could have doubled again, based on recent trends.

The pro-business FDP was the driving force behind the move to unwind the emergency powers that Merkel had put in place and replace them with a framework that shifted more authority to state governments, said one official. 

The liberal party has been openly dismissive of Merkel as their role in government came into focus. While Merkel was basking in Macron’s praise in Beaune, Marco Buschmann — a senior FDP lawmaker and a close ally of its Chairman Christian Lindner — rejected her call for restrictions on unvaccinated people.

The outgoing chancellor needed to be reminded “that she can’t just make corona policy as if there had been no election,” Buschmann said in a Nov. 3 Twitter post. “She’s now only in office as a caretaker.”

During this period, Scholz was largely out of the public eye, focusing mainly on coalition negotiations and steering clear of Covid.

On Nov. 11, the SPD politician finally addressed the pandemic. In a speech to the German parliament, he defended the decision of his allies to end emergency pandemic powers, but promised adequate measures to contain the disease.

“We have to make our country winterproof,” Scholz said, while announcing plans for the once-spurned meeting with state leaders.

On Nov. 18, officials finally met and agreed to restrict unvaccinated people from restaurants, bars and public events in areas with high hospitalization rates and promote booster shots, but they shied away from tougher curbs.  

The measures were viewed as too little, too late. Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, urged people to stay home, cancel large events, close poorly ventilated bars and clubs, reduce private contacts and avoid meeting people indoors. Germany is in “national emergency,” he said.

Merkel herself has recently stepped up  pressure on Scholz. 

“The virus doesn’t care whether Germany is currently in a phase with a caretaker government, which I lead, and ongoing negotiations about the formation of a new federal government,” she said a day before last week’s pandemic meeting.

On Monday, she said that the current outbreak is “worse than anything we’ve seen.” On Tuesday, her husband Joachim Sauer made a rare media appearance, with comments to Italian daily La Repubblica expressing disappointment over German resistance to getting immunized against Covid.  

Jens Spahn, the outgoing health minister, had a more dire message, saying on Monday that “just about everyone in Germany will probably be either vaccinated, recovered or dead” by the end of this winter.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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Austria's Kurz quits party and parliament, stunning national politics – Reuters

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Former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz gives a statement as he resigns from all political duties, in Vienna, Austria, December 2, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

VIENNA, Dec 2 (Reuters) – Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz, who resigned as chancellor in October after he was placed under investigation on suspicion of corruption, said on Thursday he was quitting politics in a surprise move that leaves a power vacuum in his party.

Kurz has been the dominant figure of his People’s Party and Austrian political life since 2017, when he became party leader and then chancellor, winning a parliamentary election and forming a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party. He told a news conference he was leaving politics altogether.

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Reporting by Francois Murphy; editing by John Stonestreet

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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The Message From Glasgow: Climate Politics Is Local – Forbes

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The COP26 Glasgow summit was probably disappointing with little to show by way of policy progress. The conference president, Alok Sharma, noted: “We can say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 (degrees Celsius) within reach, but its pulse is weak.” If this is the state of climate politics, it is depressing. Post Paris, aggressive decarbonization was supposed to be up and running. And the best we can say after the Glasgow summit is that it is alive!

Glasgow did move the policy needle a bit. Countries agreed on new rules for carbon trading, tackling methane emission, curbing deforestation, and phasing down coal (although ironically, coal consumption is up this year). In addition, developed countries promised to provide $100 billion annual climate aid between 2021 and 2025.

Did Glasgow influence U.S. climate policy? It neither accelerated nor derailed Biden’s climate agenda. The reason is that climate politics is increasingly local. This is not to say that global climate conferences are a waste of time and resources. They shine the spotlight on climate issues and increase their salience. These conferences also motivate politicians (who probably do not want to look bad among their peers) to make climate pledges. For some, a weak pledge is superior to no pledge. For others, weak pledges demobilize the climate movement by creating an illusion of policy progress.

What Did Biden Hope to Achieve at Glasgow?

Biden’s stated objective was to reclaim U.S. leadership on global climate policy. Of course, it is not clear what the U.S. gains by exercising this leadership? Vanity? A nostalgia for post-cold war Pax Americana?

And it is certainly not clear why U.S. leadership would further the global climate agenda. Does the U.S. have the financial or coercive power to motivate other countries? Is the U.S. the shining light that guides the world on climate issues?

The brutal truth is that the world has moved on without U.S. climate leadership. China leads in renewable technologies and the European Union in policy innovation. America’s economic and coercive power is declining, as demonstrated in the huge budgetary deficits and the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

And its moral power – give us a break! Domestically, the U.S. has made modest progress in climate policy. Unfortunately for Democrats, blaming Trump for climate problems no longer works. Biden’s own party held up the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the House of Representatives, which  provides substantial funding for climate projects.

Biden’s second objective probably was to reassure his domestic base about his commitment to climate issues. Chinese leader Xi Jinping did not attend the Glasgow meeting with little domestic backlash. Imagine the domestic backlash if Biden stayed home!

So, Biden attended along with a sizeable U.S. delegation.  He said the right things and in the right tone. But is this sufficient to satisfy the U.S. climate movement which wants to see Biden deliver on the climate promises made during the campaign? The reality is that intra-party differences, the fight between the progressives and the moderates, is derailing progress on climate policy. The failure to persuade Democrats to implement his climate agenda undermines Biden’s international and domestic credibility as a climate champion.

Intra-Party Squabbles and the Virginia Election Shock

Historically, U.S. presidents have exercised the bully pulpit power to mobilize legislators behind their policy agendas. But this requires the President to enjoy high levels of public support. And citizens probably support the President, who they perceive to be following the right policies and is able to deliver on them.

After a strong start, Biden has lost public support. As per RealClear politics, his net approval (approval-disapproval) has fallen by almost 30% points: from positive 20.3% 0n January 28 to negative 10.7% on November 27.  

Democrats’ loss in Virginia and a near loss in New Jersey gubernatorial races have further undermined Biden’s image as a leader who can get things done. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) noted: “The voters of Virginia and the voters of America gave us the presidency, the Senate and the House. They expected us to produce.” Indeed, within a few days of the Virginia election shock, the House passed the stalled bipartisan infrastructure bill. Arguably, Biden’s climate credentials in Glasgow and at home would have been stronger, had the House passed this bill earlier. But Biden’s own party denied him this opportunity.

Biden has another signature issue, the Build Back Better (BBB) bill, which has been passed in the House and is being considered in the Senate. This provides an additional $555 billion for climate projects. Does Biden have the political muscle to persuade Democrats to pass it? The problem is that Senators Manchin (D-WV) and Sinema (D-AZ) want cutbacks which the House Progressives might not agree to. This will be the second litmus test of Biden’s leadership and legislative skills.

Enter Inflation and Gas Prices

Over the summer, many suggested that inflation is temporary.  Very few do so now. While scholars debate what caused it, inflation will weaken Biden’s Presidency. Americans have become accustomed to a low inflation economy with stable prices. Inflation is already affecting real household incomes as people pay more for electricity and for gas. For example, the average U.S. gasoline prices have increased by 50% since last year: from $2.27 per gallon to $3.40 per gallon.

How has Biden responded? With panic and confusion. He has asked OPEC countries to increase oil production and has authorized releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The deeper problem is that the climate movement implicitly promised a painless transition to a decarbonized economy. Yet, there will be pain, be it in terms of losing fossil fuel jobs or higher energy prices. Biden clearly did not prepare Americans for this inconvenient truth. The insistence on reducing fossil fuel production at home while asking for increased production abroad invites accusations of policy inconsistency from Republicans, blue-collar labor unions, and fossil fuel communities.

Overall, the U.S. climate policy is in a bit of turbulence. Inflation, COVID, the Afghanistan fiasco, rising urban crime, and supply chain shortages are contributing to Biden’s unpopularity. Infighting among Democrats conveys the image of a “do nothing” party, to use Truman’s famous words.  Democrats have about 11 months until the midterms, when Republicans will probably win back the House. This means that the window to make legislative progress on climate policy is slowly closing. Does Biden have the political muscle to compel Democrats to focus on their agreements and not play up the disagreements on climate policy? This probably is the key issue to watch for until the November 2022 midterm elections.

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Is it time for Anwar Ibrahim to step aside? – Aljazeera.com

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s perennial prime minister-in-waiting, is facing questions over his leadership after a humiliating performance by his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition in recent state elections.

The lack of votes left many wondering about its chances of success in national elections expected as early as next year.

Pakatan Harapan has been in opposition since a power grab in February 2020. Disgruntled elements within the coalition allied with politicians defeated in the historic elections of 2018 led to the resignation of then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the government’s collapse.

Anwar, who was Mahathir’s designated successor, has been trying to win back power ever since, but last month suffered an enormous setback with a hefty defeat in the Melaka state elections.

The PH coalition only managed to retain five seats in the 28-seat state assembly, while allies, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), won four and Amanah, one. Anwar’s party, the People’s Justice Party or PKR, failed to win a single seat despite fielding 11 candidates.

The dismal performance sent Anwar trending on Twitter with thousands of Malaysians panning him over poor electoral strategies, and some urging him to retire to make way for younger leaders.

Analysts say voters punished PH for fielding controversial figures, including former Chief Minister Idris Haron who had been sacked from the PKR rival, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), after he withdrew his support and helped trigger the collapse of the state government in October.

Political analyst Bridget Welsh told Al Jazeera, Anwar, in particular, should be blamed for the poor strategy to field “frogs” – a term used for party hoppers – especially Idris, who had been vilified by PH on their way to victory in the state back in 2018.

“He (Anwar) is the one who advocated for the ‘frogs’, he pushed to accept the ‘frogs’ and he insisted on Idris Haron contesting. These people are tainted. Idris Haron was the reason Melaka was won by Harapan in GE14 (the 2018 election) and what does Anwar do now, pick him as the candidate. Anwar clearly has no understanding of the ground,” she said.

Anwar Ibrahim (second right) has been a prominent figure in Malaysian politics since he was recruited to the United Malays National Organisation by Mahathir Mohamad (centre). Anwar’s downfall in 1998 fuelled calls for reform and led to the development of an opposition that was finally able to win power in 2018 [File: Reuters]

Anwar has been one of Malaysia’s most prominent politicians for nearly 40 years. He emerged as a firebrand student leader, rose through the ranks in the UMNO, and was sacked from his position as deputy prime minister and finance minister by Mahathir in 1998 at the height of the Asian Financial Crisis.

The country watched agog as he was accused of sodomy and put on trial – a stained mattress hauled into court as a key piece of evidence.

Anwar ended up behind bars and has been jailed several times since, but his downfall and the protests that followed helped drive the rise of Malaysia’s first effective opposition.

Collective decision

Anwar’s wife founded PKR while Anwar was in jail – its flag a representation of the black eye he suffered at the hands of the country’s police chief while in custody.

Out of prison, Anwar transformed the party into a formidable force, building a coalition that put in an increasingly strong performance in elections throughout the 2000s.

In 2018, in the wake of the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal, and once again allied with Mahathir, Anwar’s former mentor, Pakatan Harapan was finally able to claim victory.

Anwar was pardoned and released from yet another prison stint shortly afterwards, and Mahathir named Anwar his successor.

But the transfer of power never happened.

After the PH government collapsed, it was veteran politician Muhyiddin Yassin who was deemed to have the backing of MPs and was sworn in as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister.

PKR Communications Director Fahmi Fadzil insists Anwar should not be blamed for the Melaka debacle.

“It is a collective decision, any decision made in PH is made collectively. At that point in time, to back Idris was a collective decision,” he told Al Jazeera.

The People’s Justice Party was founded by Anwar’s wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail after Anwar was sacked, accused of sodomy and jailed. The flag symbolises the black eye Anwar developed after being beaten in custody [File: Lai Seng Sin/AP Photo]

It is not the first time that Anwar has failed to deliver.

Last September, the former deputy prime minister claimed he had a strong, formidable and convincing majority to form a government, but only saw his plan fail.

And after Muhyiddin resigned after losing support in August, Anwar again claimed a majority to form government – only to lose out to UMNO Vice-President Ismail Sabri Yaakob who became the country’s ninth prime minister.

Indeed, Anwar has been claiming to have the numbers as far back as 2008 when he gathered a mass rally claiming he had enough support to replace then-Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, but nothing came of it.

Al Jazeera requested for an interview with Anwar, but his office had not responded by the time of publication.

Among those seen as potential successors to Anwar are younger, fresher faces, such as his own daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, and PKR Vice-President Rafizi Ramli.

After the defeat, Rafizi, who has maintained a low political profile for the past few years, tweeted that he hoped Pakatan leaders would study the result, “reject ego”, and do better in the next general elections.

Even the DAP’s Anthony Loke, a former transport minister, hinted PH should not be insistent on naming only Anwar for the top post, suggesting other names be considered too.

Pro-Anwar group, Otai Reformasi jumped to Anwar’s defence, saying he should not be made the “black sheep” for the outcome of the Melaka elections.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Amanah Communications Director Khalid Samad said Anwar had weaknesses but that did not mean he needed to go, especially given his contribution to changing the face of Malaysian politics.

“Anwar has his weaknesses but nobody is perfect. If we make a decision based on weakness, there will be no perfect candidate. We must sit down together and make a decision,” he said, referring to the coalition’s choice for prime minister. He did not elaborate on what he considered Anwar’s weaknesses to be.

Reform was part of the appeal for those who voted for the Pakatan Harapan coalition. But conservatives fought against change, and the government backed away from signing the United Nation’s anti-discrimination convention after thousands of ethnic Malay Muslims, the country’s majority ethnic group, protested against the plan [File: Mohd Rasfan/AFP]

Khalid, who represents the city of Shah Alam, was coy on who Pakatan should name to take charge in the run-up to the 15th general elections, but said it would be a collective decision of all PH parties.

“The PH presidential council will decide when the time comes. We are fighting for certain ideals, not certain individuals. Whoever brings these ideals and can bring all parties together is the obvious choice,” he said.

Finding a vision

The Melaka results have highlighted the problems facing the coalition as it tries to win back power in a country, which is 60 percent Malay Muslim, but has large communities of people of Chinese and Indian descent as well as Indigenous ethnic groups. An election in the Borneo state of Sarawak will take place later this month.

Analysts say that the top of the agenda is to win the ethnic Malay vote after the departure of Bersatu, once Mahathir’s party, but now under Muhyiddin and currently part of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.

Ei Sun Oh, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, says Anwar, who is often seen as too liberal by Malays and too religiously conservative by non-Muslims, had failed in his appeal to the Malays.

“The voters voted for PN which contains both a racialist Bersatu and a religious PAS. It is mainly the dilemma faced by a supposedly progressive and liberal PH that finds it difficult to capture an increasingly conservative, racialist and religious Malay voter base, old and young alike,” he told Al Jazeera.

Politicians within Pakatan are also concerned.

“The voter base is saying something. PH is in a quandary, we have no nationalist Malay party as we did in 2018 with Bersatu,” said DAP’s Klang Member of Parliament Charles Santiago.

Other than capturing Malay votes, PH also has to try and lure young people to the cause.

The coalition has seen its support among the youth evaporate, largely due to their failure to implement promised reforms when they were in power, such as the repeal of repressive laws like the Sedition Act, abolishing student loans, and acceding to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The plan was dropped after a mass protest by ethnic Malays.

PH’s former poster boy for youth, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, has also left the fold to found Muda, his own youth-based party. The party has yet to secure official registration, but has created a new rival in Pakatan’s efforts to attract young voters.

Young people have found their political voice in Malaysia, but have been critical not only of recent governments, but the opposition Pakatan Harapan as well [File: Arif Kartono/AFP]

With Malaysia finally set to lower the voting age to 18 – a reform pushed through by Syed Saddiq when he was youth and sports minister – the youth vote is set to expand the electorate from 14.9 million during the 2018 elections, to 22.7 million in 2023, the deadline for the next elections.

DAP’s Assistant Political Education Director Ong Kian Ming says PH should push out a more youth-oriented narrative focusing on jobs, technology and education opportunities to capture the young people’s vote.

“PH has to regroup to present a new and more compelling narrative moving ahead. PH leaders must show vision and direction to the voters in Malaysia in order to change the current sentiment that is lukewarm and not supportive of PH,” said Ong, who is a member of parliament for Bangi on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

For analyst Welsh, the key is Anwar.

She says the 74-year-old veteran has to make way for those with more dynamic ideas – if PH is to challenge effectively in the next election.

“The issue here is he (Anwar) is clearly not willing to give way. A lot of people think it is about his personal ambition and he is losing the support of party members and the political base.

“You have to position younger leaders and rebrand as a coalition. In short, Anwar has to lay out an exit plan,” she said.

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