Tue, May 16, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Merkel’s party wins key election

RUN OF FORM:The German chancellor has been shoring up her position as a world leader and won two unexpected clear victories for her party in earlier state elections

NY Times News Service, DUSSELDORF, Germany

Relatives of winning candidate Armin Laschet in Duesseldorf, Germany, on Sunday celebrate at the election party of the Christian Democratic Union after the North Rhine-Westphalia State election.

Photo: AP

The party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday scored an upset victory in elections in Germany’s most populous state that were seen as a dress rehearsal for national parliamentary elections in September, when she is to seek a fourth term.

The victory in North Rhine-Westphalia, home to 18 million people and one in five German voters, dealt a severe blow to former European Parliament president Martin Schulz, Merkel’s Social Democratic challenger, who admitted to a bitter defeat in his home state, traditionally the leftists’ heartland.

Cheers erupted at the state headquarters of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union when early results came in.

The Christian Democrats won 33 percent of votes cast, compared with about 31.2 percent for the center-left Social Democrats.

The national elections are still more than four months away — a long time in an era of febrile politics across Europe, where mainstream parties have seen their grip weaken in recent elections.

However, Merkel, in power since 2005, seems to be bucking the trend, buoyed by experience, a calm temperament and the exceptional economic strength of Germany, which has 4.1 percent unemployment and just last week announced record exports and tax revenues that are to exceed expectations by 55 billion euros (US$60.17 billion) by 2020.

Schulz, reacting to the results, said that it was a “tough day,” but that he and his party would now focus on winning the national elections in September.

A deputy leader of the Social Democrats, Ralf Stegner, conceded minutes after exit polls suggested that his party was headed for what he called a “bitter defeat.”

The state leader of the party immediately resigned, in a clear effort to deflect blame for the defeat away from Schulz.

Schulz rode a wave of hype and hope to sudden popularity early this year, but has fizzled badly since.

By contrast, Merkel has played up her status as a world leader and savored two unexpected clear victories for her party in other state elections, last week and in late March.

In the past few weeks, Merkel marshaled Europe into a joint position on negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU and warned the British against “illusions” that it would come easy.

She dined with Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, days after hosting a women’s conference in Berlin with powerful figures as different as the US first daughter Ivanka Trump and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde.

In a turbulent world, Merkel’s status as an undramatic, but effective problem solver seems to have won over voters at home, despite what her critics say is a lack of a clear domestic agenda.

Her Christian Democrats won elections in Germany’s northernmost state on Monday last week and one poll conducted afterward for the public broadcaster ARD found that a staggering 87 percent of conservative voters endorsed the view that “Angela Merkel ensures that we are doing fine in an unsettled world.”

Forty-six percent said she was the “most important reason” to vote conservative, while 28 percent said they would not vote for the party without her.

Publicly, Merkel seldom acknowledges such numbers. In private, she and her team track poll data, as any successful politician must. After appearing reluctant last winter to run again for office, she has clearly been buoyed by recent events.

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