Merkel narrowly elected to fourth term as German chancellor

The outcome of the secret ballot suggested 35 lawmakers of her new right-left coalition bloc voted against Angela Merkel. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2018
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Merkel narrowly elected to fourth term as German chancellor

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, bruised by half a year of post-election coalition haggling, was Wednesday narrowly confirmed by parliament to her fourth and likely final term at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy.
Lawmakers in Berlin’s glass-domed Reichstag voted 364-315 with nine abstentions for Merkel, who was then formally appointed by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier before taking the oath of office.
The outcome of the secret ballot suggested 35 lawmakers of her new right-left coalition bloc voted against Merkel, giving her a thin nine-vote margin that opposition parties were quick to label a “rocky start” for a spent and joyless governing alliance.
Merkel, wearing a necklace in the national colors black-red-gold, nevertheless beamed with joy and relief as applause filled the Bundestag chamber, where her scientist husband Joachim Sauer and her 89-year-old mother Herlind Kasner were among the well-wishers.
For the veteran leader, the ceremony marked the end of a painful stretch of post-election paralysis, the deepest crisis of her 12-year career.
A right-wing populist rise in September elections weakened all mainstream parties and deprived Merkel of a majority, forcing her into another unhappy alliance with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).
The grand coalition, mockingly dubbed a “GroKo” in German, didn’t start as a “love marriage,” her designated vice chancellor and finance minister, the SPD’s Olaf Scholz, drily observed this week.
All coalition partners have nonetheless sought to allay fears that their marriage of convenience could break up mid-term, insisting they plan to jointly govern until 2021.
From 1600 GMT, Merkel sits down with her new cabinet, in which the SPD has wrested both the trophy posts of finance and foreign affairs to the dismay of a growing band of critics within her Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
To quieten the dissent, Merkel has named a sometimes-outspoken critic, Jens Spahn, 37, as her new health minister and recently tapped a potential successor, new CDU general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.
“The chancellor was, from time to time, written off in the past six months,” Marianne Kneuer of Hildesheim University told Phoenix TV.
“Many in the party started thinking about the future after Angela Merkel... but at the same time Merkel has strengthened her position again.”
On Friday Merkel will head to Paris to discuss EU reform plans with French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of a March 22-23 summit, after a lengthy stretch in which Berlin was hamstrung on the European and world stage.
Macron warned in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily that, without Germany on board, “part of my project would be doomed to failure.”
“We are completely dependent on each other. I do not believe for one second that a European project without or against Germany could succeed.”
Merkel’s incoming coalition has broadly welcomed Macron’s bold reform plans, meant to reinvigorate the bloc and counter extremists and populists who have made major gains in Western democracies.
She has argued that the EU must increasingly look after its own interests in the era of US President Donald Trump, who has questioned long-standing transatlantic defense ties and threatened a trade war.
Berlin advocates closer EU cooperation on defense, immigration and plans for a European Monetary Fund. But it is lukewarm on the idea of a joint eurozone finance minister and rejects any pooling of debt.
The rise of populist fringe parties is also the central domestic threat for Merkel’s new coalition, which faces the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) as the biggest opposition party.
The AfD scored almost 13 percent in the election, capitalizing on public fears over a mass influx of more than one million refugees and migrants since 2015 and angrily demanding that “Merkel must go.”
The shock rise of the AfD has come at the expense of the CDU, its Bavarian CSU allies and especially the SPD, all of which suffered their worst results in decades in September.
While Merkel’s last GroKo had a crushing 80 percent parliamentary majority, the margin has shrunk to 56 percent.
To answer the new right-wing threat, designated interior minister Horst Seehofer has pledged a “zero tolerance” law-and-order drive and faster deportations of failed asylum-seekers.
His new interior super-ministry also covers “Heimat” or homeland affairs, a term much derided for evoking Alpine vistas, beer and bratwurst but intended to recapture claims to patriotism from the AfD.
Scholz has meanwhile promised to tackle another fear exploited by populists, of vanishing jobs in the age of globalization and rapid technological change.
“When we look at the Trump election, Brexit and the success of right-wing populist parties in many European countries,” Scholz said, “we see there is a clear need to find new answers to the challenges of the 21st century.”


India’s Modi faces calls for resignation over French jet deal

Updated 22 September 2018
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India’s Modi faces calls for resignation over French jet deal

  • Indian political parties have been gunning for Modi over the 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale planes from Dassault Aviation estimated to be worth $8.7 billion, saying he had overpaid for the planes and had not been transparent.
  • Political analysts say that the BJP is “losing in the perception war.”

DELHI: India’s prime minister was under fire over allegations of corruption in a military jet deal with France after comments by former French President François Hollande. Hollande was quoted as saying Narendra Modi’s government had influenced the choice of a local partner.
Indian political parties have been gunning for Modi over the 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale planes from Dassault Aviation estimated to be worth $8.7 billion, saying he had overpaid for the planes and had not been transparent.
The opposition, led by Congress President Rahul Gandhi, spent the past year alleging that the deal is a scam, in which India is overpaying for jets and the government is allowing a private company — billionaire Indian businessman Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defense — to benefit instead of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
On Friday, Hollande, who cleared the intergovernmental deal when he was in office, was quoted as saying New Delhi had put pressure on Dassault to choose Reliance.
“We had no choice. We took the interlocutor that was given to us,” he was reported as telling the French news service Mediapart, fueling a political storm in India.
The Indian government, however, has insisted all along that it had nothing to do with Dassault’s decision to work with Reliance Defense.
Under Indian defense procurement rules, a foreign firm must invest at least 30 percent of the contract in India to help to build up its manufacturing base and wean off imports.
HAL was the sole contender for being the local partner of Dassault Aviation, but when the deal was sealed in 2015 during Modi’s Paris trip the Reliance Defense procured the contract .
“The PM personally negotiated and changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors. Thanks to François Hollande, we now know he personally delivered a deal worth billions of dollars to ...Anil Ambani,” said Mr. Gandhi in a tweet.
Gandhi further tweeted: “The PM and Anil Ambani jointly carried out a ... SURGICAL STRIKE on the Indian Defense forces. Modi Ji you dishonored the blood of our martyred soldiers. Shame on you. You betrayed India’s soul.”
Gandhi repeated the charge in a press conference in New Delhi on Saturday.
The BJP, however, says that there is no corruption.
“The fact that two sovereign heads of States negotiated a deal means that there is no room for corruption,” said Sudesh Verma, BJP spokesperson.
Talking to Arab News Verma emphasized that “the highest integrity was maintained in the deal. Now the Congress is not talking of corruption but favoritism. Merely by saying that Reliance Defense was favored by us would not cut any ice. These are insinuations and are irresponsible.”
Political analysts say that the BJP is “losing in the perception war.”
“No matter what the indian government says that perception is that the Indian government gave the offset contract to Anil Ambani, a guy who has no history of producing defense equipment,” says Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi based political analyst.
He added: “The halo around Modi has been severely diminished after the recent revelations. This is something which it would be very difficult to live it down now.”