Merkel in final push for coalition to avert crisis

German Chancellor and chair of the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel arrives for coalition talks in Berlin, on Sunday. (AP)
Updated 19 November 2017
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Merkel in final push for coalition to avert crisis

BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel will make a last push Sunday to forge a government, in a twin battle to save her political future and avert fresh elections that could destabilize Germany and Europe.
Elections in September had left the veteran leader weakened and without a majority as some of her party’s voters turned to the far-right AfD because of anger over her liberal refugee policy.
The disputed decision to let in more than a million asylum seekers since 2015 is also proving to be a stumbling block as she seeks an alliance with an unlikely group of parties spanning the left and right of the political spectrum.
Merkel’s conservative CDU party and its Bavarian allies the CSU, hoping to find common ground with the pro-business FDP and the Greens, have given themselves until Sunday to clinch a deal.
If they do not, Germany would have to hold new elections in 2018, as the center-left Social Democratic Party has ruled out returning to a coalition with Merkel after suffering a humiliating loss at September’s elections.
“Today is the last day of these exploratory talks. We must decide,” CSU chief Horst Seehofer said as he entered into talks Sunday.
Greens leader Cem Ozdemir also said that “so far we’ve been in extra time, but today it’s the penalty shoot-out.”
“Europe is anything but out of the crisis. Now it’s time to ask ourselves the question, Would France’s President Macron have to take the coal out of the fire because Germany is missing, or would Germany be capable of taking action?” Ozdemir added.
Merkel, who has years of gruelling EU negotiations under her belt, now needs to see through what is likely the most important weekend of her political life.
“Today is not only about (the coalition), but also a day of destiny for Angela Merkel. If she fails to forge a coalition, then her chancellorship is in danger,” the top-selling Bild newspaper said.
Frank Decker, a political scientist at the University of Bonn, also had no doubt about what is at stake.
“It is absolutely in her interest for this government to come into being, because failure would spell her end,” he told the Phoenix news channel.
A poll by Welt online found that 61.4 percent of those surveyed said a collapse of talks would mean an end to Merkel as chancellor. Only 31.5 percent thought otherwise.
Merkel, in power for 12 years, had initially set a Thursday deadline to decide if the motley crew of parties had found enough common ground to begin formal coalition negotiations.
But the talks went into overtime without a breakthrough.
Key among sticking points is the hot-button issue of immigration.
The CSU, which lost significant ground in Bavaria to the AfD and faces a crucial state election next year, wants to limit the number of future arrivals at 200,000 a year.
German media reports said the Greens were ready give way on the CSU’s demand, but in return, they insist that war refugees — who are granted only temporary protection — should be allowed to bring their family members to Germany.
“We will not accept that people who are already getting a lower status of protection by law are also excluded from family reunions. That is inhumane,” Greens negotiator Juergen Trittin told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
The Greens will be wary of making concessions ahead of a party congress in a week’s time, and rank-and-file members can still torpedo any deal that they deem unsatisfactory.
Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier played down the conflict, telling the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that if negotiators are “battling hard over major questions like migration and climate change, that may not be a bad thing for democracy.”
There is “no need to start holding panic debates about new elections,” he said.
He added that “all sides are aware of their responsibilities. And this responsibility means not returning their mandate to voters.”
If the potential tie-up, dubbed a “Jamaica coalition” because the parties’ colors match those of the Jamaican flag, comes together, it would be the first of its kind at the national level.
But questions abound about how stable it would be.
SPD parliamentary chief Andrea Nahles told the Funke media group she believed such an alliance would be “a coalition of mistrust, in which there is constant conflict, where each one plays his own cards, and where there isn’t teamwork.”
Decker, the political scientist, said he “wouldn’t place a bet on whether this government will hold together for four years.”


Afghanistan’s vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum to return home from exile

Updated 22 July 2018
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Afghanistan’s vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum to return home from exile

  • Dostum’s return follows nearly three weeks of mass protests in northern Afghanistan
  • The protests were a major headache for the government amid increased attacks by the Taliban and Daesh

KABUL: Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was exiled by President Ashraf Ghani’s government over allegations of sexual abuse, returned home on Sunday to rapturous reception from supporters and is set to resume his duties as normal.
Dostum’s return follows nearly three weeks of mass protests in northern Afghanistan by his ethnic Uzbek supporters, who blocked several border crossings and government institutions, and threatened to boycott the long-delayed October elections.
The protests were a major headache for the government amid increased attacks by the Taliban and Daesh in the north recently.
Dostum’s supporters accuse Ghani of having sidelined him. The protests were triggered by the arrest of Nizamuddin Qaisari, a senior commander and Dostum loyalist accused of severe human rights abuses and threatening to kill provincial officials.
In a video, government troops were seen beating Qaisari’s handcuffed guards during his arrest, stoking further anger.
Haroon Chakansuri, a spokesman for Ghani, said Dostum had gone to Turkey for nearly 14 months for unspecified medical treatment, and would return home on a chartered aircraft on Sunday and be given an official reception.
Accusations that Dostum had ordered his guards to sexually abuse and torture political rival Ahmad Eschi will be handled independently by the courts, Chakansuri said. Dostum supporters say the allegations about Eschi are a conspiracy.
Ghani picked Dostum, the self-proclaimed leader of ethnic Uzbeks, as his running mate in the 2014 elections.
Ghani last year blocked Dostum’s return from exile when he tried to fly home to form an opposition alliance including senior government members.
The ethnic Uzbek vote is essential for any candidate in the presidential elections slated for next year. Ghani has said he will stand for office again.