You can’t have missed the global headlines a few days ago announcing that Angela Merkel is running again for the 4th time as Chancellor of Germany. This has raised many questions for expats here in Germany, in particular why does she want to, do the electorate want her back again, and most importantly, is that really allowed?
As we all know, in the US the president is only permitted to run for two consecutive 4 year terms. And as we all know, it would have been really nice if Obama could have done a third term until the country found two suitable candidates to choose between. Well that is pretty much what is just about to happen here in Germany. Merkel has decided that in the absence of a decent successor, and given the general craziness elsewhere in global politics, she had better stick around for another 4 years.
And she is allowed to. There is no fixed limit on the time a Chancellor can stay for. In fact, Helmut Kohl stayed around for 4 terms as well and was the longest serving Chancellor… so far.
The key question is really whether or not she will be successful in her reelection bid. Her announcement hasn’t been met with excitement or jubilation but by a mixture of relief in having stability, acceptance that it is a done deal, but also a certain amount of frustration that nothing new will come for the next 4 years. But this is exactly why she is likely to be voted in again. The Germans are generally quite happy with Merkel. We have just had an approval rating showing 55% of voters think she is doing a good job. Just don’t mention the 1 million refugees.
And this is a key point. Not everyone thinks that she will have such an easy ride this time. The migrant crisis is very fresh on people’s minds and although the crime wave and apocalyptic scenes never materialised, many Germans feel that this was badly managed and that they have generally been taken advantage of by many freeloaders. This has hurt Merkel’s popularity and it won’t be forgotten. So in spite of a healthy economy, low unemployment and a steadily rising global national reputation, Merkel is still likely to be voted in only if there is no better option available.
Frankfurt is one of the most liberal of cities with booming local economy, super low unemployment and a highly educated, internationally experienced work force, so I decided to test the mood with my own (highly unscientific) poll. I talk to around a dozen locals and the feeling pretty much unanimous: we will vote for Merkel, because who else is there? It’s better her than the right wing crazies in the AfD (Alternative for Germany party) who already have about 15% of the vote according to recent polls.
Trouble is, Frankfurt as I said is one of the most liberal cities. When you visit some eastern cities like Leipzig and Dresden, the mood is very different. Unemployment is a lot higher, incidents of racism are far more frequent, and anti-refugee rallies like Pergida are far more common. Ironically, they also have far less immigrants than cities like Frankfurt. If the AfD manage to increase their share of the vote in these areas, although they are unlikely to win the largest share of the vote, they could disrupt Merkel’s finely balanced ‘Grand Coalition’that has dominated the country for a decade.