By Cecilia de Almeida
While many world leaders were present in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, Angela Merkel was busy campaigning for what would most likely be her fourth term as the German Chancellor. On the weekend of September 22nd, German citizens went to the polls and made their political choices heard and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) – Merkel’s party – won the majority vote, officially extending Merkel’s position as Chancellor. If she were to serve the whole term – will be tied with Helmut Kohl as the longest-serving post-war chancellor. Her main rival was Martin Schulz, is a former president of the European Union and is associated with Merkel’s sister party, the center-left Social Democratic Party. The pair had a lot of common views on immigration and pension systems. Merkel focuses her campaigning on lowering unemployment and giving Germans tax cuts. Schulz, on the other hand, campaigned on the promise of to raise taxes and using some of the German budget surpluses “for investments in infrastructure and to help boost the EU.” Security and terrorism were also key issues during this campaign, both candidates promising to strengthen Germany’s security forces and hiring more police forces.
Even though Merkel’s party won the majority, it was still a bruising election result that significantly weakened her authority. To form a government, a political party must win more than 50% of the seats available in Parliament. Considering that there are 42, it is significantly hard to establish a majority government, so Merkel’s chief task at hand is putting together a coalition government with the other parties who achieved representation in Parliament. The chancellor’s party “gained just 33% of the vote, its lowest share for decades”, making the need for support of other parties to govern greater than ever.
What was even more surprising is that, for the first time in 60 years, the far-right party received enough votes to gain them 94 seats in Parliament. The party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is known for its anti-immigration, anti-Muslim rhetoric and its spokesman – Alexander Gauland – “promised his party would provide staunch opposition to the new government.” The party was founded in 2013 and rose to prominence on the back of an anti-immigration stance in direct opposition to Merkel’s decision to open up the border to the millions of refugees. Merkel would never form a coalition with them; her best chance right now is to create a three-way coalition with the liberal FDP and the Green Party – a coalition never seen at the federal level. The three-way alliance could give an extra boost to the German and European economy, as both Merkel’s party and the FDP “are likely to prioritize policies that favor business and trade, and all three have promised tax cuts.”
Even though Angela Merkel’s re-election is something to be commemorated, the rise of the AfD is something that should cause concern for the rest of the world. It shows that the anti-immigration, anti-Muslim rhetoric that was present during the 2016 campaign and referendum around the world has not yet disappeared. While both France and the Netherlands – and now Germany – have denounced these narratives to an extent, their rise in popularity shows us that liberal and globalized policies must prove themselves in the new international order.