How Merkel’s Win May Hide Rising Discontent

With German Chancellor Merkel expected to win reelection on Sunday, the European elites may celebrate having turned back a populist surge, but their neo-liberal policies continue to fuel discontent

By Andrew Spannaus and cross-posted from Consortium News

The citizens of Germany will head to the polls this Sunday, in the last of a series of elections in major European countries this year. Before the voting began, there were fears that populist, anti-system parties could actually win in some cases, in the wake of the victory of last year’s Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. That hasn’t happened, as Marine Le Pen of the National Front was defeated in a run-off in France, and Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party failed to break through in Holland.

Germany is also expected to weather the populist storm, with Chancellor Angela Merkel set to be re-elected. Her Christian Democratic Party (CDU/CSU) now holds a comfortable lead over its main competitor, the Social Democrats (SPD), with the other opposition parties far behind. That will give Merkel, a reserved but effective politician who grew up in Communist East Germany, the chance to approach Helmut Kohl’s record as the country’s longest serving leader.

Due to the parliamentary system, which allows numerous smaller parties to send representatives to Berlin, neither of the large parties can win outright, which means that Merkel will need to form a coalition. Her preference would be to take on her party’s historical ally, the Free Democrats, but it is possible she will be forced to continue with a “grand coalition” agreement between the CDU and SPD to share power in the name of stability, while keeping out the parties seen as more extreme.

The most feared of the smaller groupings is the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a “populist” party that has grown rapidly in recent years, drawing on economic and social discontent in the mold of other anti-system parties around Europe. The AfD is expected to draw slightly more than 10 percent of the vote, well below the totals for Marine Le Pen in France (21 percent in the first round) or the Five-Star Movement in Italy (25 percent in 2013), and closer to the level of Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in Holland (13 percent in the March elections).

Nevertheless, the AfD’s growth has caused consternation around Europe, as the governing elites struggle to explain why even in the country with the continent’s strongest economy, where unemployment is low, and productivity and budget surpluses are high, there has been a rapid increase in populist fervor

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