Merkel flies high in poll test as ‘Schulz effect’ fizzles

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (AFP)
Updated 27 March 2017
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Merkel flies high in poll test as ‘Schulz effect’ fizzles

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel emerged emboldened Monday from a surprise state poll triumph, as the hype around her main rival fizzled on its first test in a “super election year.”
With just six months to go until a general election in Europe’s top economy in which Merkel is seeking a fourth term, the poll in the tiny southwestern state of Saarland Sunday took on outsized importance.
Voters returned Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) to power with 41 percent of the vote, five points higher than at the last election in 2012.
The center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who had been enjoying a surge in the polls thanks to their freshly-anointed champion, Martin Schulz, came in a distant second with 30 percent.
Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, admitted Monday that the result had been a bitter disappointment just a week after SPD delegates unanimously elected him party chairman.
But he tried to put a brave face on the defeat.
“Election campaigns are marathons and not sprints, and we have good stamina,” he said, warning the CDU that “those who are celebrating today shouldn’t count their chickens before they hatch.”
Merkel was to hold her own news conference at CDU headquarters at 1115 GMT.
Saarland is governed by a “grand coalition” government, the same right-left alliance that Merkel leads in Berlin.
For Schulz to take her job from her, he would likely need to win a majority for a leftist coalition with far-left Die Linke and the ecologist Greens party known as Red-Red-Green.
Commentators said the Saarland result indicated voters may be getting cold feet about that prospect.
Germany’s top-selling daily Bild said Merkel clearly had the wind in her sails after the Saarland vote, noting the dilemma faced by Schulz and the SPD.
“It’s a small state, but a big signal,” it said of Saarland, the first of three German state polls scheduled in the run-up to the national election on September 24.
“If Martin Schulz wants to become chancellor, he is going to have to put all his eggs in the Red-Red-Green basket — a big risk. And Angela Merkel can breathe a sigh of relief and get ready for the next Schulz attack.”
After weeks of breathless media coverage of the so-called “Schulz effect,” credited with lifting the SPD around 10 points in national polls to pull even with the CDU, news website Spiegel Online said the election proved he had “no magic powers.”
“This much is clear after the CDU success in Saarland: the SPD had better get ready for a tough campaign,” it said.
The center-left Sueddeutsche newspaper said the poll had been a crushing reality check for the SPD.
“While yesterday’s result hasn’t ended the SPD’s hopes of making it into the chancellery, it has certainly put a damper on Schulz mania,” it said.
Merkel’s CDU had suffered a string of state poll setbacks in the wake of her decision in 2015 to open the borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees, mainly from strife-ravaged Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
However the issue has lost its explosive force in German politics as the number of new arrivals has dwindled.
The right-wing populist AfD party, which had seized on voter outrage and angst over the issue, won seats in Saarland Sunday, its 11th German state, but with an anaemic result of six percent.
The score was just over the five-percent threshold of votes needed to gain representation.
Political scientist Robert Vehrkamp of the Bertelsmann Foundation noted that strong turnout of around 70 percent had transformed what was forecast as a tight race into a show of force for the CDU.
“Many voters, particularly the centrists, are nervous about the strong results of the populist parties on the fringes,” he told DPA news agency.


Turkey jails 24 Istanbul airport workers pending trial after protests

Updated 18 min 27 sec ago
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Turkey jails 24 Istanbul airport workers pending trial after protests

  • Istanbul’s governor said on Sunday more than 400 people were initially detained for taking part in the protests
  • A total of 43 people among those detained were sent to an Istanbul court to rule on what action would be taken and it released 19 of them subject to judicial monitoring

ISTANBUL: A Turkish court has jailed pending trial 24 people involved in protests over work conditions at Istanbul’s new airport last week, broadcaster CNN Turk said on Wednesday.
The airport is a centerpiece of a 15-year construction boom under President Tayyip Erdogan. It has an initial planned capacity of 90 million passengers a year, making it one of the world’s biggest airports.
Istanbul’s governor said on Sunday more than 400 people were initially detained for taking part in the protests. Work resumed at the airport on Monday with a heavy police and gendarmerie presence, according to labor unions.
A total of 43 people among those detained were sent to an Istanbul court to rule on what action would be taken and it released 19 of them subject to judicial monitoring, CNN Turk said.
The 24 formally arrested and remanded in custody faced provisional charges such resisting police, damaging public property and contravening the law governing protests, it said.
Workers have long complained about food, housing and work safety conditions at the construction site, which unions have likened to a concentration camp.
In February, Turkey’s labor ministry said 27 workers had died at the airport since the start of work in 2015, mainly from accidents or health problems. Protests started on Friday after a shuttle bus accident injured 17 workers.
Airport operator IGA said on Sunday work at the airport was on schedule and the planned Oct. 29 opening would not be delayed. Steps had been taken to improve working conditions and living quarters, which workers say were infested with bedbugs, it said.