Leader of German Social Democrats’ youth wing could be Merkel’s nemesis

Kevin Kuehnert, leader of the Juso youth wing of Germany's Social Democrats SPD party, speaks during a press conference on Thursday at the SPD headquarters in Berlin. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2018
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Leader of German Social Democrats’ youth wing could be Merkel’s nemesis

BERLIN: On the face of it, a fresh-faced, hoodie-wearing 28-year-old is an unlikely threat to the leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), let alone to conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Yet before an SPD vote on Sunday on whether to enter formal talks with Merkel, the leader of the party’s Jusos youth wing has struck a chord with members with his campaign against a re-run of the “grand coalition” that has ruled Germany since 2013.
“The chancellor is hanging on a Jusos drip,” wrote the daily Die Welt this week, reflecting a flurry of headlines about Kevin Kuehnert, Jusos leader since November, as a potential nemesis for the upper middle-aged leaders of Germany’s two main parties.
Three days before SPD delegates decide whether to enter formal coalition negotiations with Merkel’s conservatives, Kuehnert, a Berliner, looked serious but relaxed.
“To keep returning to a grand coalition out of fear that everything else is even worse really diminishes the SPD in the long run,” Kuehnert told reporters.
His style brings a breath of fresh air to the somewhat staid world of German politics. In an open-necked black shirt, jeans and trainers, Kuehnert stood in front of a microphone and spoke articulately without notes.
Despite the age difference, some German media have called him Germany’s Jeremy Corbyn, the 68-year-old leftist leader of Britain’s Labour party leader who has galvanized young supporters.
Kuehnert’s clear message and congenial manner have resonated. SPD rank and file are split over the policy blueprint deal that would be the basis for talks with the conservatives.
“I am very optimistic that on Sunday, we have a real chance of winning the vote,” Kuehnert told reporters at SPD headquarters, a venue he said he chose to emphasize solidarity with the party.
The stakes could barely be higher.
If delegates vote against the blueprint agreed with Merkel, SPD chairman Martin Schulz is widely expected to quit.
Moreover, Merkel would have failed twice at forming a coalition after a previous attempt with other parties collapsed in November, putting a big question mark over her own future. The result could be a minority government or new elections.
However, Kuehnert is at pains not to attack Schulz. “After Sunday, I won’t be calling for anyone to resign,” he said.
A soccer fan whose mother works in a jobs center, Kuehnert sought to demolish the argument made by some in the SPD that it must avoid a new election due to its dismal ratings, by saying an election is not inevitable if there is no grand coalition.
In the September election, the SPD saw its support slump to 20.5 percent, its lowest since 1933 and underlining its loss of identity and profile in a coalition that was dominated by Merkel. Now opinion polls put it on at 18 percent.
Kuehnert is adamant that the SPD needs to go into opposition to reinvent itself. “We are looking for a path that will lead the SPD back to being the big left party again,” he said.
Former Jusos leaders include ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, whom Merkel defeated to start her first term in office back in 2005, and Andrea Nahles, who is tipped as a possible successor to Schulz.


Sabika Shaikh’s family waiting to see her one last time

The coffin of Sabika Shaikh, 17, is carried during her funeral service in Stafford, Texas, on May, 20, 2018. Sabika was an exchange student from Pakistan. (AFP)
Updated 48 min 12 sec ago
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Sabika Shaikh’s family waiting to see her one last time

  • The Punjab administration has announced a scholarship in the name of the Texas school shooting victim.
  • Sabika’s body will arrive in Pakistan on Wednesday morning. Her father says he was greatly moved to see how many people attended her funeral in Houston.

KARACHI: Abdul Aziz Shaikh, father of the Pakistani victim of the Texas school shooting, told Arab News on Monday that he would have to wait to see his daughter for the last time due to a delay in flights from the US.

“Sabika’s body was due to arrive in Karachi on Tuesday morning; however, due to a change in flight schedules, we will receive her at 4 a.m. on Wednesday,” he said.

“It’s really difficult but we have no option but to wait,” he continued, adding that officials at the Pakistan Consulate in Houston were striving to make the best possible arrangements for sending her body back to her home.

The 17-year-old Pakistani foreign exchange student, participating in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program in the US, was killed, along with nine others, when a teenage classmate opened fire on fellow students in the Santa Fe High School in Texas on Friday.

Sabika’s funeral prayers were offered at a local mosque in Houston after the noon prayer on Sunday.

“We thought she was only loved by her family. But the way people showed up at her funeral in Houston — and the way everyone condoled with us in Karachi — shows that she was loved by everyone," her father said.

Shaikh said he saw the video of the Houston funeral, pointing out that it was not only attended by Pakistani-Americans but people from all Muslim countries. Many of those who attended the ceremony, he added, belonged to other faiths. They were all mourning her untimely death, he said.

“All this shows people’s exemplary attachment to her. It makes us very proud.”

Rana Mashhood Khan, a minister in the Punjab administration who visited the bereaved family on Sunday evening, told Arab News that the provincial government was going to introduce a “Sabika Scholarship” that would be awarded to brilliant students from Punjab. This, he added, would help them study abroad in some of the best educational institutions around the world.

“I met the family and conveyed a special message from Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. We wanted them to know that we will institute a scholarship in the name of their talented daughter for young and bright students in our province,” Khan said.

Shaikh seemed happy to hear the announcement. “I’m glad that the name of my daughter will be associated with a scholarship that will benefit our students.”

He also said that a Karachi-based industrialist, Ishtiaq Baig, had also promised to introduce a scholarship in Sabika’s name. “She is making us all very proud. I wish I could see her alive with so many accomplishments.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also visited Shaikh’s residence to condole with the family.

Expressing deep grief and sorrow, the prime minister described Sabika as a talented Pakistani student, adding that the whole nation was mourning her death. The Pakistani premier also pointed out that extremist tendencies were not just a problem in one country or region, but that they were an international one.

Earlier, in an interview with Arab News, Shaikh had revealed that his daughter wanted to be a diplomat and improve the image of her country.

“Sabika wanted to sit the Central Superior Services (CSS) exams and join the Foreign Service of Pakistan. She thought that Pakistan was a great country, but that it had an image problem.”

“At one point, she told me that she wanted to be like Maleeha Lodhi and Tasneem Aslam,” Shaikh had said. “Her desire was to improve the image of Pakistan abroad.”