Millennium Post

Merkel's travails

Merkels travails
For a leader who was often referred as the "leader of the Free World" not too long ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's position and popularity are not what they used to be. The pressures of the far right, who won 13 per cent of the vote, is increasing even as they seem to find more acceptance among erstwhile Merkel loyalists. Grumbles and woes from within the coalition do not make things easier. The needling of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), for preparing to support Merkel's fourth term in office, highlights a more irreverent tone. The chancellor has been attacked by some of her own former supporters for her unwillingness to be more open about the practical implications of absorbing the 2015 wave of refugees and also for allegedly failing to identify warmly with the victims of the Christmas terror attack in Berlin in 2016. In other words, she is being treated like any other long-stay politician showing signs of fatigue. And, to think, only a year ago she was hailed as virtually a superhuman. It is no longer absurd to suggest that Theresa May could outlast the German leader in office. It is now just over three months since an election which saw Merkel and her SPD rivals punished at the polls, with a sharp rise in support for the far-right, and votes scattered liberally across smaller protest parties, from the free-market liberals in the FDP to the Greens and left-wingers, Die Linke. For the first time, her message to the SPD, "the world won't wait for us," was part chiding, part imploring. The party, in turn, is hamstrung by leader Martin Schulz, who took them down to a mere fifth of the vote and foolishly promised after the election to not re-enter a Merkel-led coalition. The popularity of the small and insurgent parties is causing headaches on the centre-left, as well as the centre-right. One nascent organisation, SPD Plus, is calling for a fresh start and a bigger voice for the grassroots. For all the barnacles that are now attached to her leadership, Merkel will not shrivel as a political force in 2018. Only she has the votes and personal heft to ensure that the government runs well enough. But the strains of the coalition are intense and her leadership is more fraught than ever. Her toughened tone on migrant checks and the removal of failed asylum seekers risk appearing erratic. So, the task for Germany's durable leader will be to decide more precisely what her chancellorship should represent at home, as well as on the European stage. Germany's politics is no longer the stuff of soporific speeches and a supine Parliament, the shift reflects a more fragmented society and a more assertive electorate. Merkel will need to use all her wiles to rise to a new German reality.

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