Germans warned against apathy as Merkel heads for fourth term

Social Democratic Party SPD leader and top candidate Martin Schulz stands next to his wife Inge while voting in the general election in Wuerselen, Germany, on September 24, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 September 2017
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Germans warned against apathy as Merkel heads for fourth term

BERLIN: Germans were urged to vote in a national election on Sunday in which a seemingly assured fourth term for Chancellor Angela Merkel risks being overshadowed by a far-right party entering parliament for the first time in more than half a century.
After shock election results last year, from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union to the election of US President Donald Trump, many look to Merkel to rally a bruised liberal Western order, tasking her with leading a post-Brexit Europe.
Writing in the mass-market Bild am Sonntag newspaper, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned Germans against letting others decide the future of their country by failing to vote.
“It has perhaps never been as clear that the elections are about the future of democracy and Europe,” he wrote, amid polls showing that as many as a third of Germans were undecided.
“If you don’t vote, others decide.”
In Germany’s proportional election system, low turn-out can boost smaller parties, such as the hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), giving them more seats from the same number of votes.
In regional elections last year, Merkel’s conservatives suffered setbacks to the AfD, which profited from resentment at her 2015 decision to open German borders to more than one million migrants.
Those setbacks made Merkel, a pastor’s daughter who grew up in Communist East Germany, wonder if she should even run for re-election.
But with the migrant issue under control this year, she has bounced back and thrown herself into a punishing campaign schedule, presenting herself as an anchor of stability in an uncertain world.
Visibly happier, Merkel campaigned with renewed conviction: a resolve to re-tool the economy for the digital age, to head off future migrant crises, and to defend a Western order shaken by Trump’s victory last November.
“GRAVEDIGGERS OF DEMOCRACY“
Both Merkel and her main challenger, Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz worry that a low turnout could work in favor of smaller parties, especially the AfD, which is expected to enter the national parliament for the first time.
Schulz, who on Friday described the AfD as “gravediggers of democracy,” told reporters after voting that he was still optimistic that his party, a distant second according to polls, would pick up the votes of those undecided.
An INSA poll published by Bild newspaper on Saturday suggested that support was slipping for Merkel’s conservatives, who dropped two percentage points to 34 percent, and the SPD, down one point to 21 percent. The two parties now govern Germany in an unwieldy “grand coalition.”
The anti-immigrant AfD, whose leaders have called for Germany’s World War Two army to be honored, rose two points to 13 percent in the latest poll, putting it on course to be the third-largest party.
“I hope that our democracy can deal with a party that has said, in my view, intolerable things in the media,” said Kathrin Zimmermann, voting in Berlin. “I hope the right-wing pressure doesn’t get too strong.”
Should she win a fourth term, Merkel will join Helmut Kohl, her mentor who reunified Germany, and Konrad Adenauer, who led Germany’s rebirth after World War Two, as the only post-war chancellors to win four national elections.
The AfD’s expected entry into the national parliament could signal a break from the steady, consensus-based approach that has marked the post-war period.
Coalition-building after the election could be very lengthy as potential partners are unsure whether they really want to share power with Merkel. All major parties refuse to work with the AfD.
Electoral arithmetic might push Merkel to renew her grand coalition with the SPD, or she might opt for a three-way alliance with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and environmentalist Greens.
Voting opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) and will continue until 6 p.m. (1600 GMT), when exit polls will give a first indication of the outcome.


10 killed in Nicaragua protests against pension reform plan

Updated 13 min 40 sec ago
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10 killed in Nicaragua protests against pension reform plan

  • Students from Polytechnic University have been holed up on their campus since Thursday evading police.
  • Murillo compared the protesters to "vampires demanding blood to feed their political agenda."
MANAGUA: Violent protests against a proposed change to Nicaragua's pension system have left at least 10 people dead over two days, the government said Friday.
In the biggest protests in President Daniel Ortega's 11 years in office in this poor Central American country, people are angry over the plan because workers and employers would have to chip in more toward the retirement system.
The government is willing to hold a dialogue and Ortega will issue a formal call on Saturday, Vice President Rosario Murillo said, adding: "At least 10 compatriots have died."
Demonstrations rocked the capital Managua and nearby cities for a third day.
The new law, besides increasing employer and employee contributions, would cut the overall pension amount by five percent.
"We are against these reforms, which means we're against this government taking from the pockets of Nicaraguans," said Juan Bautista.
He said riot police brutally attacked demonstrators like him because "the dictator does not like people to protest."
A woman nearby shouted: "The people are tired of this repression!"
Students from Polytechnic University have been holed up on their campus since Thursday evading police. Other students took refuge in nearby buildings or residences.
In Las Colinas, south of the capital, demonstrators raised small barricades and with their hands raised asked the riot police not to target them.
Four independent television outlets were taken off the air after they broadcast the demonstrations on Thursday, and two were still blocked on Friday.
Murillo compared the protesters to "vampires demanding blood to feed their political agenda."
The opposition said more than 20 people were wounded while the writers group Pen Nicaragua said that at least 11 journalists were attacked while covering the demonstrations.
"We call on the Nicaraguan authorities to act to prevent further attacks on demonstrators and on the media," said Liz Throssell, spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights."
She urged the government to let people "exercise their right to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly and association," and urged protesters to demonstrate "peacefully."
She also said demonstrators were attacked by government supporters in the city of Masaya.
Miguel Mora, director of the private television channel 100% Noticias -- which the government blocked -- accused Ortega of applying the same censorship he imposed in the 1980s during the Sandinista Revolution.
When Ortega returned to power in 2007 he promised to "never censor a media outlet -- and today he is doing just that," Mora told Channel 14.