There is no skirting around the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel lies in the center of quite possibly the largest divide the country has seen since the end of the Cold War, and despite falling approval numbers and an abundance of refugees pushing the country past its limits, she announced on Sunday that she will be seeking a fourth term in 2017.
During Sunday’s announcement, Merkel made it known that she is aware of the challenge she is undertaking, and the rough road ahead that could affect her entire Christian Democrat Union (CDU) party, saying that it “will probably be criticized from everywhere, from the right-wing parties and also because of the polarization of our society, also from the left party.”
The news of her run was not entirely unexpected, but Merkel told the press that there was a lot of thought put into the idea of a fourth term and the decision “after 11 years is anything but trivial, not for the country and not for the party, and I say it consciously also for me personally”.
poll numbers can be very misleading
It is hard to miss or ignore the public criticism towards Merkel and her open door policy that allowed more than one million refugees to come into Germany, a plan once championed by so many of those of whom now join the anti-Merkel crowd, but her approval numbers still remain relatively high.
Merkel’s current approval numbers average between 55 and 59 percent, down from her peak rating of 80 percent in 2014 but still above her lowest of 50 percent, which came after she backed the European efforts to bail out Greece in 2010, but as many of us in the US have seen, poll numbers can be very misleading.
With no strong opponent in sight as of yet, Merkel is by default being considered an early favorite in the race, but the controversial Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has surged in popularity recently, playing off of Merkel’s newfound liberal leanings that have left a gap on the right.
There was a time, when Merkel entered into her political career, when she leaned upon the heavily conservative policies that she now champions against, including the anti-immigration stance that the AfD has used to gain public support. “Immigration cannot be a solution for Germany’s demographic changes,” she once said. “Increased immigration would threaten the inner peace and help radical forces gain power.”
Even with her immigration policy casting a shadow on her legacy, there is more than that at stake for Merkel. A fourth term could offer stability at a time when the world is facing uncertain times, with the Brexit vote and a Trump presidency shaking things up. “The situation in the world is as such that it needs to sort itself out again with regard also to the United States and Russia,” she told the press.
In regards to comments made that say she is the last remaining global mantle of liberal democracy, she called the assertion grotesque and absurd. “No human being on his own, even if there’s a lots of experience, can manage to give the world a positive direction for everything, not even a German Chancellor.”
“My mission is to listen to citizens”
Merkel’s CDU party suffered in this year’s elections, tarnished by their affiliation to her, but despite her own acknowledgment of her toxicity, party leadership walked away from their own Sunday meeting holding onto the belief that while it will be a rough road ahead for any CDU member running next year, it would be almost impossible without her.
For those who feel that she has failed or ignored their voices, she could ride on the truth that Germany is doing better than ever economically under her leadership, but instead is offering to listen to the public to solve the problems. Problems that she herself may have been behind.
“We together wish to argue like Democrats, that means arguing not (to) hate, not (to) degrade somebody, not (to) ostracize somebody, exclude somebody,” Merkel said on Sunday. “I understand in politics that it’s our mission as the state to try to solve problems for citizens, to give a framework where people can shape their lives. My mission is to listen to citizens and then in the interests of our community to implement policies.”