Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

Merkel’s coalition conundrum just got harder

October 17, 2017

By Paul Carrel

Reuters

BERLIN (Reuters) – She has earned a reputation as Europe’s chief crisis manager. Now Germany’s Angela Merkel must forge a government out of an awkward group of allies bent on nailing down a coalition deal so tight it risks limiting her room to act if crisis strikes again.

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FILE PHOTO: Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Chancellor Angela Merkel and Christian Social Union (CSU) Bavaria State Premier Horst Seehofer address a news conference in Berlin, Germany, October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo

The chancellor goes into talks this week about forming a government. But her task, already tough after she lost ground in a Sept. 24 national election, is all the harder after defeat in a regional vote on Sunday further weakened her hand.

The upshot is that she must draw on all her consensus-building skills to form a ruling alliance of her conservatives, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens.

The terms of a coalition deal, should one be reached, could determine Merkel’s room for maneuver on both the domestic and international stage.

During her 12 years in power, she has been able to steer Europe through its euro zone and refugee crises, in part due to her dominance at home. Any constraints on her ability to swiftly shape and enact policies could compromise Germany’s leadership role.

If the three party groups fail to reach a deal at all, some in their ranks fear this could lead to public disenchantment and fuel further support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which entered parliament for the first time last month.

The combination of the groups going into coalition talks is untested at national level and Merkel’s would-be allies are not guaranteeing success. The chancellor’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian allies meet the FDP and Greens separately on Wednesday before they all meet on Friday.

“Now we must gauge whether a platform for common policy can be found. For me, that is undecided,” FDP leader Christian Lindner told Deutschlandfunk radio on Tuesday.

Adding to the complications, the CDU, FDP, and Greens want to put any deal to their grassroots party members for approval. FDP deputy leader Wolfgang Kubicki has said “it would be illusory to believe we could conclude negotiations by Christmas”.

IMMIGRATION SPLIT

One major area of contention is immigration policy.

The CDU and their conservative Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have agreed a limit of 200,000 a year on the number of migrants Germany would accept on humanitarian grounds.

But the other parties reject a cap and instead favor an immigration law with criteria to attract highly educated workers to plug skills shortages. They say the CDU/CSU migrants agreement should not be baked into a coalition deal.

Juergen Trittin of the Greens said pressure on the conservative bloc to shift right – after bleeding support to the AfD – could complicate the talks on forming a “Jamaica” coalition, so-called because the parties’ colors correspond with the Jamaican flag.

“I fear this will make the Jamaica exploratory talks much more difficult,” Trittin told the Passauer Neue Presse.

The three party groups also have deep differences on issues ranging from European Union reform and tax to the environment.

A Jamaica coalition was formed in the tiny western German state of Saarland in October 2009, but collapsed in January 2012. The same formation took power in the far northern region of Schleswig-Holstein after elections there in May this year.

MUTUAL SUSPICION

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the conservative state premier of Saarland who led the former Jamaica alliance there, stressed the need to establish trust between the three national groups.

“It is important that there is a basic understanding among those people negotiating,” she added. Asked how to foster trust and understanding, she replied: “Talk, talk, talk.”

But the size of the negotiating teams – the CDU/CSU and Greens have 28 and 14 people respectively – is undermining trust before the talks have even begun.

Kubicki told Focus magazine it was a “cardinal error” to enter the discussions with such large teams, adding this was “not conducive to building trust and no basis for good and confidential negotiations”.

The result of the mutual suspicion is that negotiators are pushing for “deeper agreements” in a coalition deal than in the 130 pages agreed by the outgoing ‘grand coalition’ of Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).

This risks limiting Merkel’s freedom in policymaking. The euro zone and refugee crises, which were not foreseen in coalition agreements, were addressed with ad hoc decisions.

Germany’s budget surplus may help smooth the path in the coalition talks, however. It gives scope to satisfy all sides, to some degree, by paying for both tax cuts and investment in areas such as upgrading infrastructure for the digital age.

But if Merkel is unable to form a three-way coalition with the FDP and Greens, she could try to team up again with the SPD – though the SPD has said it wants to go into opposition. Should the SPD reject her approach and Merkel find herself unable to form a government, she could try to form a minority government, or else call fresh elections – an unprecedented scenario.

“If we don’t get this under control, the political system we’ve had for 70 years – and the stability it has brought – will be threatened,” said one senior conservative, speaking under condition of anonymity.

Editing by Pravin Char

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With far-right in turmoil, France’s Le Pen softens anti-EU stance — “European Union is an instrument for the impoverishment of people”

October 11, 2017

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Marine Le Pen, member of parliament and head of France’s far-right National Front (FN) political party. REUTERS photo by Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) – Far-right leader Marine Le Pen has said it is possible to improve the lives of French citizens without leaving the single European currency, in a marked shift from the anti-EU stance she pushed during her failed presidential bid.

Le Pen’s National Front party has been in turmoil since her heavy defeat to Emmanuel Macron in May’s presidential election, split by deep internal divisions over its view on Europe that forced the departure of Le Pen’s deputy last month.

“In numerous areas it is possible to improve the daily life of the French without quitting Europe or the euro currency,” Le Pen told weekly magazine Valeurs Actuelles in comments to be published on Thursday.

“We have heard the French people,” she said.

Her remarks are the clearest indication yet that the National Front will focus on policies around immigration  and national identity, and soften the anti-EU rhetoric that cost her dear in the election.

While public discontent toward Brussels has fueled nationalist sentiment in France, in particular in rural and low income areas, opinion polls show there is little appetite for France to follow Britain out of Europe, or to drop the euro.

The departure of Florian Philippot, for years Le Pen’s closest aide and a staunch advocate of an anti-euro, protectionist line, split the National Front but also paved the way to a policy change as the far-right party seeks to rebrand itself.

During her election campaign, Le Pen promised a referendum on EU membership. After suffering a bruising defeat to Macron in the May run-off vote, Le Pen’s National Front won just eight seats in the National Assembly, leaving it with a weak voice and unable to form a parliamentary group.

Last month, already toning down her language, she said that “national sovereignty” would be a mainstay of the party’s struggle.

“We will continue to fight the European Union with all our soul because it is an instrument for the impoverishment of people,” she said in the wake of Philippot’s resignation.

Reporting by Simon Carraud; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Richard Balmforth

Donald Trump, the President Without a Party

October 9, 2017

Estrangement from Republican leaders clouds the White House’s agenda

President Trump walked to board Marine One at the White House on Saturday.
President Trump walked to board Marine One at the White House on Saturday. PHOTO: SHAWN THEW/POOL/ZUMA PRESS

Increasingly, Donald Trump is a president without a party.

With virtually no Republican votes to spare in the Senate, where his agenda hangs in the balance, he has nonetheless become estranged from two key figures in his own party. First it was John McCain of Arizona, over his defiance of the president on health care. Next it was Bob Corker of Tennessee, who feuded with the president in a remarkable weekend of exchanged insults.

As it happens, Mr. McCain is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Mr. Corker is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Thus, the president is alienated from the two most important Senate figures on national security at a time when two critical national-security issues are coming to a boil: the fate of the nuclear deal with Iran and the increasingly dangerous standoff with North Korea.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump backed the losing candidate in a Republican primary runoff in Alabama, finding himself trapped between the party establishment whose choice he supported and the social conservative foot soldiers who backed Roy Moore, the candidate who actually won.

Now, Mr. Trump’s once and perhaps current political guru, Steve Bannon, has set out to attack much of the rest of the Republican caucus in the Senate. He’s also gunning for the entire GOP congressional leadership, with which the president is himself increasingly disillusioned.

President Trump defied the Republican party this week by striking a deal with Democrats in Congress on raising the debt ceiling, keeping the government running and funding hurricane relief. The WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains whether this signals Trump will be more independent in the coming weeks. Photo: AP

After a conversation with Mr. Bannon in recent days, Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect summarized his agenda this way: “Bannon’s current obsession is to blow up Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Senate incumbents whom he regards as hostile to his brand of nationalism.”

Mr. Trump has tried to adjust to this growing estrangement from leaders of his own party by opening the door to cooperation with Democrats on immigration and health care. But after seemingly striking a deal with Democrats to protect the legal status of so-called Dreamers—young immigrants brought here illegally as youths—he plotted strategy over how to follow through on that agreement with a group of Republican senators over a White House dinner last week.

What emerged was a list of demands that may well blow up any pending immigration deal. To get the Dreamers deal Democrats want, Mr. Trump called for, among other things, funding for a wall he wants along the Mexican border, new restrictions on those seeking asylum in the U.S. and punishment for localities that declare themselves “sanctuary cities.”

Those principles surely are negotiable. Still, they seem to leave Mr. Trump trapped in a kind of immigration no-man’s-land, between Democrats wanting a Dreamers fix and Republicans hoping to use that fix as a lever to push through broad immigration changes they’d like to make.

The question is: Where is this all supposed to lead?

There is an answer to that—in the long run. Mr. Trump would like to lead, and Mr. Bannon would like to create, a Republican Party different from the one that exists. It would be a party molded in the Trump image: nationalist, skeptical of immigration and trade agreements, dubious about the virtues of diplomacy and international negotiations, with economic strategies skewed to help workers in traditional American industries.

After all, Mr. Trump has said on several occasions—most notably at a conservative conference in February—that he wants the GOP to be the party “of the American worker.”

There are three problems with that vision, though. First, that party doesn’t exist today. The current version of the GOP was built largely by merging the interests of the business community with the agenda of social conservatives. Neither of those groups would win top billing in the vision for a new, Trump-inspired party.

The second problem is that it isn’t at all clear that such a new Republican Party would, in fact, be a majority party. There are disaffected people loitering in both current major parties—disgruntled blue-collar workers, fearful middle-class Americans, trade skeptics, those who feel culturally alienated from the current Democratic establishment—who are drawn to such a vision.

But ultimately, Mr. Trump failed to win the popular vote even as he won the presidency in 2016, and he has never come close to winning majority approval for the job he’s doing as president.

The third problem is that, while waiting for that Republican Party to emerge, Mr. Trump confronts the job of governing today. The current party has just 52 members in the Senate, and, as noted, Mr. Trump doesn’t have the loyal support of all of them. Mr. Bannon and his allies are threatening to challenge other Republican incumbents in primary elections next year, which won’t exactly keep those targeted at his side.

Meantime, Mr. Trump hasn’t forged reliable tactical alliances with enough Democrats to make up the difference. Which leaves him a leader in search of reliable followers.

Write to Gerald F. Seib at jerry.seib@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trump-the-president-without-a-party-1507563185

Merkel agrees to limit on refugees entering Germany

October 9, 2017

AFP

© Tobias Schwarz / AFP | German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech during a congress of the Junge Union Deutschlands in Dresden, eastern Germany, on October 7, 2017.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-10-09

Two weeks after winning elections with a reduced majority, Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed on Sunday to limit Germany’s refugee intake in a bid to unite her conservative camp ahead of tough coalition talks to form a new government.

Merkel’s team huddled with her Bavarian CSU allies led by Horst Seehofer, who has angrily blamed her decision to allow in over one million asylum seekers since 2015 for the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

After 10 hours of closed-door talks, Merkel’s CDU and the CSU agreed they would aim to cap refugees coming to Europe’s top economy at 200,000 a year, according to a draft paper — a formulation close to a long-time Seehofer demand that Merkel had repeatedly rejected.

The goal of the meeting was to settle bitter squabbles so the estranged conservative sister parties can again present a united front in upcoming coalition talks with two smaller parties — the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the left-leaning and ecologist Greens.

The CSU’s beleaguered Seehofer — who after a vote drubbing faces internal challengers, and state elections next year — had vowed to close his party’s exposed “right flank” and win back AfD voters, crucially by taking a harder line on refugees and immigration.

In an opening salvo Sunday, the CSU had published a list of demands, including capping refugee numbers, a committment to a “healthy patriotism” and an acknowledgement that “conservatism is sexy again”.

“We must fight the AfD head-on — and fight to get their voters back,” said its ten-point list published in mass-circulation Bild am Sonntag.

‘Fundamental compromise’

Merkel had long rejected Seehofer’s signature demand for an iron-cast “upper limit” of 200,000 refugees a year — but late Sunday a deal was shaping up that some commentators dubbed an “upper limit light”.

After hours of talks to square the circle of their competing positions, “a fundamental compromise has been reached”, an alliance source told AFP.

Later, as the marathon talks ended, a party spokesman announced that Merkel and Seehofer would explain the agreement in a joint press conference at 1000 GMT Monday.

The draft deal includes a target of limiting the refugee intake at 200,000 a year, but with caveats. It also says that asylum seekers will not be turned back before their cases are assessed, in line with the German constitution.

The 200,000-figure refers to controlled entries, such as through family reunions, and refugees accepted at the EU level or under a deal between the bloc and Turkey.

If there were a repeat of the chaotic mass migration like that from war-torn Syria and other conflict zones seen in 2015, the government would reassess the issue and consult parliament on a new target figure, according to the draft proposal.

Both CDU and CSU say migrant flows must be reduced through fighting traffickers and better guarding the EU’s outside borders.

And the parties also plan a broader immigration law aimed at attracting qualified migrants with labour skills sought by German industry — matching a core demand of the FDP.

They also want to renew a push to declare three North African nations “safe countries of origin”, raising the bar for asylum claims from there — a demand so far blocked by the Greens, who point to human rights abuses in those countries.

Odd bedfellows

The emergence of the anti-immigration AfD, which scored 12.6 percent to enter the opposition benches, has stunned Germany by breaking a long-standing taboo on hard-right parties sitting in the Bundestag.

Its success came at the expense of all the mainstream parties, making it harder for Merkel to form a working majority.

Her only chance now, if she wants to avoid fresh elections that could further boost the AfD, is an alliance with two other parties that make for odd bedfellows, the FDP and Greens.

Such a power pact — dubbed a “Jamaica coalition” because the three party colours match those of the Caribbean nation’s flag — would be a first at the federal level in Germany.

Tough talks lie ahead as the parties differ on refugees, EU policy and the Greens’ core demands, including phasing out coal plants and fossil fuel vehicles.

The Greens’ co-leader Cem Ozdemir, voicing some impatience with the divided conservatives, warned that they “must not block the formation of a government for weeks”.

New Zealand First leader says foreign ownership restrictions to be part of coalition wrangling

October 9, 2017

Reuters

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FILE PHOTO – Winston Peters, leader of the New Zealand First Party, speaks during a media conference in Wellington, New Zealand, September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Charlotte Greenfield/File photo

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The party holding the balance of power in New Zealand’s election said on Monday foreign ownership restrictions would be part of its coalition talks, after a final tally showing greater support for the center-left bloc drove the local dollar to a four-month low.

A final vote count published over the weekend – two weeks after the Sept. 23 poll – showed the center-left Labour-Green bloc picking up two extra seats, bringing it nearer to the center-right governing National Party’s tally.

With Labour-Green on 54 seats and National on 56 seats, both will need NZ First’s nine seats to meet the 61 seats needed for a majority in parliament in New Zealand’s proportional representation system.

When pressed by reporters on whether foreign ownership would be a large part of negotiations with both National and Labour, NZ First leader Winston Peters said he doubted whether anyone in the press expected otherwise.

“So have you got that? It’s a yes,” he said.

National, which has sought to focus discussions on its careful management of the small, open trading economy, has repeatedly expressed support for open investment.

In contrast, Labour has suggested there is room for some restrictions. It wants to ban overseas buyers from purchasing existing homes as it tries to tackle what it has described as a housing crisis in New Zealand.

Labour and New Zealand First are thought to have more policies in common, with both looking to curb immigration, renegotiate certain trade deals and adjust the role of the central bank.

The New Zealand dollar NZD=D4 fell as far as $0.7052 on Monday from $0.7090 on Friday evening, its lowest since late May, as uncertainty over the election outcome prevailed.The currency traded at $0.7071 in the afternoon.

“The market’s been anticipating more of a center-right government and the unknown from the center-left is weighing,” ANZ Economist Con Williams said.

Peters, a colorful 40-year political veteran who has in the past has taken senior roles in both Labour and National governments, has set a self-imposed deadline of Oct. 12 to announce which party he will support.

When asked how this week’s talks compared to previous election negotiations, Peters said, according to local media: “They are similar in some ways because of circumstances. More like 1996 than 2005.”

In 1996 Peters formed a coalition government with National after two months of negotiation, while in 2005 he entered a confidence and supply agreement with Labour, which allowed the center-left party to govern. The 1996 election was much tighter than 2005 in which Labour won a wide lead.

“But we have a few days to go yet before we will know the outcome,” the New Zealand Herald quoted Peters as saying.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Ana Nicolaci da Costa; Editing by Alison Williams, Jane Wardell and Richard Chang

Refugee issue complicates Merkel’s bid to form government

October 8, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Frank ZELLER | Talks between the CSU and Angela Merkel’s CDU are expected to epose party divisions including over immigration

BERLIN (AFP) – Two weeks after winning elections with a reduced majority, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a first step Sunday toward forming a government by trying to unite her bitterly divided conservative camp.

Merkel met for closed-door talks with her Bavarian CSU allies led by Horst Seehofer, who blames her open-door refugee policy for the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Seehofer — who faces internal challengers, and state elections next year — has revived his calls to cap refugee numbers at 200,000 a year, a demand Merkel has consistently rejected as unconstitutional.

In an opening salvo Sunday, the CSU published a 10-point list of demands, including a refugee “upper limit”, a broad return to the conservative roots of the centre-right alliance, and a committment to “healthy patriotism”.

“We must fight the AfD head-on — and fight to get their voters back,” said the text published in mass-circulation Bild am Sonntag, which suggested that “conservatism is sexy again”.

The talks were expected to last deep into the night, with CSU general secretary asking journalists whether they had “brought their sleeping bags”.

Merkel’s CDU too is nervous ahead of a Lower Saxony state poll next Sunday, where it is running neck-and-neck with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) — a party badly in need of a win after their bruising defeat in September 24 elections.

SPD leader Martin Schulz, gleefully watching the family squabbles in Merkel’s conservative camp, charged that the “madhouse” CDU-CSU dispute showed that “in reality, they are enemy parties”.

– Odd bedfellows –

The emergence of the anti-immigration AfD, which scored 12.6 percent, has stunned Germany by breaking a long-standing taboo on hard-right parties sitting in the Bundestag.

Its success came at the expense of the mainstream parties, making it harder for Merkel to form a working majority.

Her best shot now — if she wants to avoid fresh elections that could further boost the AfD — is an alliance with two other parties that make for odd bedfellows, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the left-leaning Greens.

Such a power pact — dubbed a “Jamaica coalition” because the three party colours match those of the Caribbean nation’s flag — would be a first at the national level in Germany.

In the talks to come, likely to take weeks, all players will fight for ministerial posts and issues from EU relations to climate policy.

All must give a little to reach a compromise — but not too much, to avoid charges from their own party bases that they are selling out in a grab for power.

The smaller parties will seek to avoid the fate of Merkel’s previous junior coalition partners: both the FDP and SPD have suffered stunning losses after governing in the chancellor’s shadow.

– Poker games –

Until the high-stakes poker games between party chiefs result in a working government, Merkel will be restrained on the global stage and in Europe, where French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing for ambitious reforms.

EU and euro politics, in turn, are shaping up as another divisive issue.

Merkel and the Greens have cautiously welcomed Macron’s plans, but FDP chief Christian Lindner, who is eyeing the powerful finance minister’s post, has assumed a far more sceptical tone.

He rejects any kind of “transfer union” — code for German taxpayers’ money flowing to weaker economies — and said Europe must grow through “solidarity and competitiveness, not a failed policy of redistribution”.

Lindner has praised, however, Seehofer’s tougher stance on migration, declaring that refugee numbers “must be reduced”.

The Greens, for their part, reject an upper limit for refugees, want to stop deportations of rejected asylum seekers to war-torn Afghanistan, and favour steps to help Syrian refugees bring their families.

Even if these issues can be resolved, the Greens will also push their ecologist core demands in talks with the pro-business parties — including phasing out coal plants and fossil fuel vehicles.

The Greens’ co-leader Cem Ozdemir, voicing some impatience with the divided conservatives, urged them to “quickly settle their dispute” and warned that they “must not block the formation of a government for weeks”.

by Frank ZELLER

Germany’s President Speaks About “New Walls” — Stand in the way of our common sense of ‘us’ — A sort of “Berlin Wall in the head”.

October 3, 2017

BERLIN — Germany’s Sept. 24 national election has shown the country is divided by new, less visible “walls”, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Tuesday, the anniversary of German reunification.

Speaking 27 years after East and West Germany were reunited following the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, Steinmeier said the election, which saw the far-right enter parliament, had exposed “large and small cracks” in society and he called on democratic lawmakers to work together to fight any return to nationalism.

“On September 24th, it became clear that other walls have arisen, less visible, without barbed wire and death-strips, but walls that stand in the way of our common sense of ‘us’,” Steinmeier said in a speech in the western city of Mainz.

Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term in office in the election, but the vote brought a far-right party into parliament for the first time in more than half a century. A fractured vote means she will have to govern with a far less stable coalition.

Steinmeier, a center-left Social Democrat who was foreign minister before taking up the largely ceremonial presidency role in March, said that Germany now has “walls between our living environments”.

Image may contain: 1 person, flower and eyeglasses

 German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrives to address the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler Reuters

He said these had sprung up “between city and country, online and offline, poor and rich, old and young – walls, from behind which people hardly understand anything of each other.”

A poll on Monday showed nearly two-thirds of Germans still see divisions between those in the former communist East and the West, a sort of “Berlin Wall in the head”.

In Germany’s new parliament, comprising six party groups compared to four previously, “political culture will change”, Steinmeier said. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has vowed to “hunt” the new government, whatever its make-up.

The president urged lawmakers to show that “democrats have better solutions than those who abuse democracy”, and to never allow a return to nationalism. He said Germany needed a sense of “homeland” with a common, democratic, way forward.

A leading member of the AfD, Alexander Gauland, provoked outrage last month for saying that Germans should no longer be reproached with their Nazi past and should take pride in what their soldiers achieved during World War One and Two.

Steinmeier said Germany needed an honest discussion about immigration – the issue that fueled the rise of the AfD after Merkel’s 2015 decision to leave German borders open to around 1 million refugees, mostly fleeing war in the Middle East.

He called for discussion about how much migration Germany wants, and needs, adding that this could mean new guidelines.

“In my view, this means not simply wishing away migration but … defining legal admission to Germany, which regulates and controls migration by our stipulations,” he said.

(Editing by Richard Balmforth)

The politics of dominance: Don’t take it to the limit

October 2, 2017

By Han Fook Kwang
The Straits Times

OPINION

An overly dominant ruling party faces dangers such as resistance to change and complacency

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s victory in the recent elections made headlines around the world because her party’s winning margin was much reduced due to the gains of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

For Singaporeans though, the more peculiar feature of the result might be that her party won only 33 per cent of the votes and would need a coalition with others to form the government. That has been a hallmark of German politics for decades. Yet, despite not winning a majority, Chancellor Merkel is now into her fourth term in office and is widely regarded as the leader of the Western world, after United States President Donald Trump was unofficially stripped of the title because of his inward-looking “America First” policy. Under her leadership, Germany has strengthened its position as one of the strongest economies in the world and demonstrated forthright stewardship of the troubled European Union.

Question: How has the country been able to achieve all these despite its politics of coalition government? Or, is its ability to accommodate a wide range of views one of the secrets to its strength?

I do not know the answer but whatever it is, it is a world apart from Singapore, where the defining characteristic has been the dominant position of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), which has won every general election since independence in 1965. So overwhelming has its hold been that there has not been a single year when the opposition held more than 10 per cent of the seats and many in which it held none.

Singapore has done exceptionally well during these years of PAP dominance. The economy has grown, per capita income is one of the highest in the world, and the city has been transformed beyond recognition. There are many reasons for its success but political stability has often been touted as a major factor.

Indeed, the Government has repeatedly stressed that because of Singapore’s small size and limited talent pool, it cannot afford to have the revolving-door politics seen in many Western democracies, with parties taking turns at the helm, or worse, suffer a coalition government.

Singaporeans, by and large, understand the benefits of a strong government: the ability to plan for the long term, and to be able to implement policies quickly without politics getting in the way.

In contrast, the Germans would recoil at the thought of having one party dominate the country, having learnt their painful lesson in the brutal years leading to World War II when the Nazi Party led by Adolf Hitler muscled its way to power.

To each his own then, and never the twain shall meet?

Every country has to decide which system works best for it, shaped by its own history and the unique circumstances of its people and culture. There is no universal model.

Every country has to decide which system works best for it, shaped by its own history and the unique circumstances of its people and culture. There is no universal model. But there are dangers when any one system is taken to extremes.

But there are dangers when any one system is taken to extremes.

In Germany, seats are allocated by proportional representation, which encourages multi-party democracy and works against a dominant party system. This has helped extreme right-wing parties such as the AfD gain a foothold, the first time in 60 years they have been able to do so. Analysts predict a rough time ahead as fringe parties enter the fray with their divisive politics.

In Singapore, danger comes from the other end of the spectrum, from an overly dominant government. It can lead to complacency when leaders lose touch with the ground and ordinary people’s concerns. Without a strong opposition and other influential voices outside the party, groupthink can set in.

The PAP suffered from some of this in the years leading to the 2011 General Election (GE), when it failed to address issues such as rising property prices, overcrowded MRT trains and an overly liberal immigration policy leading to a large influx of foreign workers. It was accused of being elitist in its approach.

To its credit, it acknowledged its weaknesses after suffering one of its worst setbacks in the GE, tackled the problems, and reaped the benefits in the 2015 GE.

Now, there are renewed concerns it is exercising its dominant powers by introducing the reserved presidency despite unhappiness among the people. Its overwhelming electoral victory in 2015 has no doubt made it more assured in dealing with these politically sensitive issues.

There is a familiar cycle to the politics of dominance, with the ruling party testing the limits of its power and recalibrating it at every election depending on how well it performs.

But it has to watch that it does not overplay its card because the Singapore political landscape is a flat one and can be swayed by one major nationwide issue, such as the reserved presidency. There might still be a political reckoning to come in the next election.

Besides complacency, there are two other dangers of an overly dominant government.

One is the blurring of lines between the party and the state. This is a pertinent risk in Singapore because the ruling party has been in power for so long, the public service has known no other political master. Public servants are supposed to be politically neutral in theory, but in practice it can be difficult to draw the line.

For example, opposition politicians have long complained that the People’s Association (PA) discriminates against them in not appointing opposition Members of Parliament as grassroots advisers even though they have been duly elected by the people. The Government has argued that the PA exists to explain and promote government programmes, a role it does not expect the opposition to support.

In reality, any ruling party anywhere will want to maximise the advantage it enjoys in incumbency. That’s only natural, and the PAP, because of its longevity, knows this better than anyone.

But if overdone, it risks undermining the integrity of public institutions and public confidence in them.

This would have serious consequences for Singapore because its public service is among the best in the world, with a reputation painstakingly built over the years.

The other danger an overly dominant ruling party faces is resistance to change even when circumstances require it. I do not mean adjustments of government policies but more fundamental changes to the party’s internal workings, such as who and how it attracts new members, how it selects its leaders, and what its approach is to alternative views.

The tendency of most dominant systems is to preserve the status quo because of inertia and vested interests. Can change come voluntarily from within, or will it be forced by external circumstances? The record of most dominant parties around the world, including the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, Umno in Malaysia and the African National Congress in South Africa, favours the latter. The PAP, being politically stronger than any of these parties, might yet prove the exception.

None of these potential risks will make Singaporeans desire coalition government or Germans embrace a dominant-party system. But both would do well to recognise the dangers of taking any one form to the extreme.

• The writer is also a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/the-politics-of-dominance-dont-take-it-to-the-limit

Merkel Faces Big Challenges in Forming Government

September 25, 2017

German chancellor is likely to seek a three-way coalition that has never been tested at the federal level

BERLIN—Chancellor Angela Merkel started laying the groundwork Monday for an unprecedented three-way governing coalition, but faced headwinds from conservative allies reeling from losses to an upstart nationalist party and clamoring for a tougher line on immigration and security.

After her center-right bloc’s weaker-than-expected victory in Sunday’s election, Ms. Merkel faces no easy path to a fourth term. A coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats, her party’s favored partner, would still lack a majority of seats in parliament. And the center-left Social Democrats, who have governed alongside Ms. Merkel the last four years, reiterated on Monday that they would refuse to serve as her junior partner for another term.

That leaves a three-way coalition with the Free Democrats and the environmentalist Greens, which has never happened on the federal level, as Ms. Merkel’s only viable option. Ms. Merkel said she would invite the parties to preliminary talks and that she was committed to reaching an agreement.

The Greens favor liberal policies on immigration and European integration, putting them at odds with the Free Democrats and with conservatives in Ms. Merkel’s bloc.

“It is important that Germany get a good, stable government,” Ms. Merkel said in a news conference at her party headquarters in Berlin.

Far more skeptical rumblings came from Munich, the base for Ms. Merkel’s influential Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union. The CSU suffered a stunning setback in Bavaria, winning 39% of the vote compared to 49% four years earlier, and faces state elections late next year. The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany, or AfD, won 12% of the vote in the state.

Leading Bavarian conservatives indicated Monday that they would try to push Ms. Merkel further to the right in order to win voters back from the AfD—a challenging prospect given the upcoming coalition talks with the Greens. Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer, the CSU chairman, said he would emphasize his party’s tough line on immigration in talks with Ms. Merkel about how to approach the coalition negotiations.

“Continuing with business as usual is, we believe, not possible,” Mr. Seehofer said.

He said setting an upper limit for the number of refugees Germany agrees to take in every year would be a condition of his party joining the coalition. Ms. Merkel has opposed the issue and the Greens argue it breaches Germany’s constitution.

“We will insist on this, this is an incredible important issue for people,” he said.

Mr. Seehofer said any coalition agreement would need to win the approval of a CSU party conference before a government can be formed.

Coalition talks are likely to drag on for weeks, and possibly into the winter. The parties will negotiate the new government’s positions point-by-point to hammer out a lengthy coalition agreement.

“I know that certain negotiations with Mr. Seehofer will be very hard, very hard. This will concern everything concerning refugees and migration,” said Katrin Göring-Eckardt, who co-led the Greens’ ticket.

Europe will be eagerly awaiting the outcome of the negotiations, in part because the Free Democrats favor a tough fiscal policy that could clash with French President Emmanuel Macron’s plans for deeper political integration in the European Union.

Ms. Merkel said Monday that her party would be open to EU reform, but expressed some skepticism.

“We can use more Europe, but this must also lead to more competitiveness, more jobs, and simply more firepower for the European Union,” Ms. Merkel said, referring to Mr. Macron’s proposals, which he plans to flesh out in a speech on Tuesday.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/merkel-faces-big-challenges-in-forming-government-1506352656

Donald Trump took aim at North Korea, terrorism, China and Iran in blunt United Nations speech

September 20, 2017

By Zoe Daniel  — Analysis
ABC News (Australia)

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, beard and closeup

The United Nations General Assembly has been given a double dose of Donald Trump unfiltered.

Yes, the tone was relatively measured, but the language used was characteristically blunt.

It’s something rarely seen in the centre of global diplomacy, and while several people would have helped write the speech there’s no doubt it reflected the President’s core views.

“Our Government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens — to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values,” he said, pushing US sovereignty.

“As President of the United States, I will always put America first.”

And then he went on the attack.

“The scourge of our planet today is a small group of rogue regimes that violate every principle on which the United Nations is based,” Mr Trump told the UN.

First in his sights, North Korea

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Mr Trump said.

Kim Jong Un will struggle to shake this moniker

“Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

China, and others, got a shake for trading with the regime

“It is an outrage that some nations would not only trade with such a regime, but would arm, supply, and financially support a country that imperils the world with nuclear conflict,” Mr Trump said.

The Iran nuclear deal is looking shaky (still)

“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” Mr Trump said.

The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.

“Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it — believe me.”

The ‘loser terrorists’ were also on the receiving end

“The United States and our allies are working together throughout the Middle East to crush the loser terrorists and stop the re-emergence of safe havens they use to launch attacks on all of our people,” Mr Trump said.

Here’s a sign of things to come on refugee policy

“For the cost of resettling one refugee in the United States, we can assist more than 10 in their home region,” Mr Trump said.

And the UN itself, never favoured by Mr Trump, was given its own rocket

“In some cases, states that seek to subvert this institution’s noble aims have hijacked the very systems that are supposed to advance them,” he said.

“For example, it is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the UN Human Rights Council.”

The US, he says, is bearing too much cost for an organisation that’s not returning results:

“The United States is one out of 193 countries in the United Nations, and yet we pay 22 per cent of the entire budget and more. In fact, we pay far more than anybody realises,” Mr Trump said.

“The United States bears an unfair cost burden, but, to be fair, if it could actually accomplish all of its stated goals, especially the goal of peace, this investment would easily be well worth it.”

A case in point, Venezuela, where he called for action

“The Venezuelan people are starving and their country is collapsing. Their democratic institutions are being destroyed. This situation is completely unacceptable and we cannot stand by and watch,” the President said.

“I ask every country represented here today to be prepared to do more to address this very real crisis.

“We call for the full restoration of democracy and political freedoms in Venezuela.”

The reaction was swift, and equally blunt

From former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton:

In the entire history of the UN, there has never been a more straight forward criticism of the unacceptable behavior of other member states.

From Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

In over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech.

From North Korea:

North Korea confirms it boycotted Pres. Trump’s speech today – walking out beforehand & leaving behind only a junior diplomat, per @Abs_NBC.

Republicans loved it:

Pres Trump in UN speech put intellectual clarity on his principle that the American President should represent America not global system.

Democrats, not so much. From Senator Dianne Feinstein:

“The goals of the United Nations are to foster peace and promote global co-operation. Today, the President used it as a stage to threaten war.”

And this:

Striking how Trump’s UN speech embraced sovereignty & non-interference right before calling for regime change in Iran, Cuba, & Venezuela.

The UN speech was especially frightening bc it was scripted & presumably vetted. So much for idea Trump is crazy only when he improvises.

And as for the media:

UN speech was a lot of Trump tweets strung together. Saber-rattling. But no clear doctrine. Threats of confrontation around the world.

It was Mr Trump’s first speech to the UN. It won’t be quickly forgotten.

Topics: donald-trumpunrest-conflict-and-warworld-politicsunited-states

 

GlennMerchant

Well said and long overdue. Congratulations for having the intestinal fortitude to call it as it is.

The weed

Trump is full of vague rhetoric; does he include the long suffering population of North Korea in his total destruction?

North Korea’s desire for a nuclear deterrent is understandable after the USA and its allies invaded Iraq on a false assumption of WMD. That lead to the establishment of ISIL and I think the USA has a lot to answer for those actions.

It’s interesting that Trump talks about looking after a nation’s population needs and rights when he chooses to ignore global warming when most people want him to deal with it.

Tedv

Finally some reality check for the UN from the briliant US President. So refreshing that after years of the Obama waffling the reality is clearly presented and the world starts listening.  Well done Mr Trump…

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DavidChambers

Congrats Zoe on reporting as it was. Much better than the vitriol and cynicism in the article by John Barron. Hopefully there will be more reporters/article writers like Zoe who stick to the facts.

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ThathoiLe

I could not believe the US President had such views, which were so childish, idiosyncratic, idiot, bullying, uneducated…… like Trump…. I do not care what Trump talked rubbish, but I DO care & sympathise Americans & their country that spent so much human lives & resources for decades to become The World Leader and now destroyed by Trump what his previous leaders to consolidate the US image…. Trump gives Russia, China a free kick /opportunities to take over US without much fighting & costs. Americans REAP WHAT THEY SOW… God save US

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-20/donald-trump-un-speech-north-korea-china-iran-nuclear/8962550