Left-wing German Social Democrats lobby against Merkel alliance

German Chancellor Angela Merkel with German Chief of Staff and interim Finance Minister Peter Altmaier at the Reichstag Parliament building in Berlin. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Left-wing German Social Democrats lobby against Merkel alliance

BERLIN: Left-wing German Social Democrats lobbied party members on Saturday against joining Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in a re-run of their 2013-2017 alliance, a week before delegates are asked to back a coalition blueprint.
The push-back from the left wing of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) came a day after its leaders urged members to swallow their doubts and endorse a deal to renew a “grand coalition” with Merkel’s conservatives for another four years.
The SPD leaders face a tough task to convince members to approve the deal at a Jan. 21 party congress and again in a postal vote at the conclusion of formal coalition negotiations.
The leader of the SPD’s Jusos youth branch, Kevin Kuehnert, began a Germany-wide ‘No-GroKo’ tour to lobby party delegates to vote against the grand coalition. Others on the party’s left took to the airwaves to criticize the coalition blueprint.
“A general change in policy is not happening, and a strengthening of the right wing must be avoided,” Hilde Mattheis, who leads the left-wing DL21 SPD group, told Deutschland funk radio.
Many in the SPD rank-and-file are worried about allowing the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to become the largest opposition party in Parliament — a scenario that would unfold if their party joins the conservatives in coalition.
“The SPD would always be a bulwark against the right,” said Mattheis.
To win over the SPD, Merkel agreed in the coalition blueprint to €5.95 billion ($7.26 billion) of investment in education, research and digitalization by 2021, expanded child care rights, and a pledge to strengthen Europe’s cohesion with increased German contributions to the EU budget.
But some Social Democrats believe the deal lacked sufficient concessions to their party. They also fear a new grand coalition would further diminish the identity of the SPD, which suffered its worst result in the September election since 1933.
Even some senior party figures were not completely sold.
“There is a great deal of skepticism in the SPD about another grand coalition,” said Manuela Schwesig, SPD state premier in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
“For me, the skepticism is not completely gone either. But you have to face reality now,” she told NDR Info radio.
Should SPD delegates reject a tie-up with Merkel’s conservatives, she could try to form a minority government or Germany could face new elections.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who wants a stable coalition soon to end the political uncertainty hanging over Germany, expressed skepticism about a minority government, which would be a first in the post-war era.
He said there was “rightly” criticism of whether such a scenario was appropriate to overcome “the European crisis.”
“In the end, we should not forget that no one can be forced — including not by the president — to lead a minority government,” Steinmeier told Focus magazine.
Merkel has said she would favor new elections.


Zimbabwe’s split opposition helping Mugabe’s successor to victory

Supporters of Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa sit, during the launch of the party's election manifesto in Harare, Thursday, June, 7, 2018. (AP)
Updated 17 min 42 sec ago
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Zimbabwe’s split opposition helping Mugabe’s successor to victory

  • Twenty-three candidates — the highest number in the country’s election history — are in the running for the presidential race after haggling over the allocation of parliamentary seats
  • In May the party held a so-called “healing session” to appease disgruntled members who had threatened to “donate” their votes to the opposition

HARARE: Zimbabwe’s divided opposition could bolster the long ruling party’s chances of victory after failing to forge a solid coalition for the country’s first elections without Robert Mugabe.
Twenty-three candidates — the highest number in the country’s election history — are in the running for the presidential race after haggling over the allocation of parliamentary seats, scuttling a plan by the opposition to form a united front in general elections due on July 30.
But the real battle is seen to be between the ruling Zanu-PF and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the party which has posed the most formidable challenge to Zanu-PF’s grip on power.
The main presidential candidates are Zanu-PF’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, who succeeded Mugabe after a brief military takeover last November and Nelson Chamisa, 40, who took over as leader of the MDC following the death of opposition veteran Morgan Tsvangirai in February.
“The unprecedented numbers of aspiring candidates is an indication of the opening of political space and an interest by Zimbabweans to take part in politics,” said Rushweat Mukundu, of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.
Mnangagwa who took over from Mugabe, ending his nearly four-decade rule in which he presided over the country’s economic and political decline, has vowed to hold clean elections and break from past history of violence-tainted polls.
Zanu-PF “has created the impression that it has broken from its past of violent and contestable elections, hence the unprecedented numbers of those who have come out to contest,” said Harare-based independent analyst Alexander Rusero, adding many have no following “beyond their small cliques and the churches they attend.”
“At best this is counterfeit democracy,” which festers confusion among the opposition while Mnangagwa enjoys the benefit of incumbency.
Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF party, riven by factionalism which began as a battle over Mugabe’s succession, is also battling to stay together.

In May the party held a so-called “healing session” to appease disgruntled members who had threatened to “donate” their votes to the opposition, or stand as independents amid accusations of rigging and favoritism during primary elections.
“It’s not the number of candidates that’s worrying but the phenomenon of rebels who are insisting on standing without the blessing of their parties,” according to University of Zimbabwe’s Eldred Masunungure.
“This is going to have an impact on both Zanu-PF and the MDC Alliance.”
Some 5.6 million people are registered to vote in the election which has attracted the interest of many first-time voters desperate for change in a country ruled by Zanu-PF rule since independence from Britain in 1980.
“I was born under Zanu-PF and all I have known is poverty and suffering,” said Harare street vendor, Takudzwa Mutepeya “for us this is a vote for change.”
Mnangagwa has pledged to revive the country’s moribund economy which took a toll from years of misrule, and to mend fences with Zimbabwe’s former Western allies who severed ties over the Mugabe regime’s tainted human rights record.
Chamisa has said, if elected, he will create a $100-billion economy in a decade.

Other candidates include Mugabe’s former deputy Joice Mujuru, ex-cabinet minister Nkosana Moyo, Thokozani Khupe from a breakaway faction of the MDC, and musician and sculptor Taurai Mteki.
Businesswoman Violet Mariyacha, 61, returned home after 25 years in Britain, to join the presidential race.
“I could not continue watching my people suffering,” she told AFP. “I came to be the new face of Zimbabwe’s politics.”
Human rights activist and presidential candidate Lovemore Madhuku is in the election “to introduce an alternative voice. We are fed up with ... having two dominant parties that are simply doing nothing except fighting each other.”
Previous elections have been marred by violence, intimidation and charges of electoral fraud including stuffing of the electoral roll with phantom voters including long-deceased people.
In 2008 the then opposition leader Tsvangirai withdrew from a presidential run-off election citing the deaths of scores of his supporters.
The lead-up to the election has so far been calm. For the first time the state broadcaster covered the launch of the main opposition MDC’s manifesto live on television while police allowed a march calling for reforms including giving foreign-based citizens to right to vote without having to travel back home.