Angela Markel’s return as German chancellor on Sunday was not only a historic cementing of her status as a pivotal global leader, but the election’s overall result signalled the dawn of a new international landscape. That landscape requires a shift in political ethos.
Arguably, Merkel, who now equals the record of her predecessor Helmut Kohl, has been a practitioner of this new approach. The key to her success has been her ability to reconcile warring ideological factions. Variously described as “centrist politics” or “asymmetric demobilisation,” her approach has left little room for her opponents by incorporating their views within her own party and coalition agenda. She has not ignored the conservative fringes. Nor has she completely abandoned liberal ideals.
Two good examples are her approaches on gay marriage and immigration. Merkel allowed a free vote to take place on the issue of gay marriage after one of her coalition partners forced a vote. In that vote she voted no, expressing the view of her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), that marriage is between a man and a women. In the end, she was outnumbered by German politicians who voted in favour of the measure. But in the process she was criticised for what was seen as a backward stance on gay rights.
At the same time, Merkel was praised for her open-door immigration policy which, by some estimates, resulted in one million immigrants entering Germany after fleeing atrocities in Syria and elsewhere. For her stance, she earned the moniker “Mama Merkel” among immigrants and beyond. Yet, it was this issue that brought Merkel down among conservatives, costing the CDU about one million votes and arguably playing a role in the bolstering of the fortunes of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Merkel will now have a tough time ahead, as AfD will have its largest parliamentary presence in the Bundestag (13 per cent). Despite her historic victory, the chancellor’s conservative bloc secured 33 per cent of the vote, down 8.5 points on the last election, in its worst performance since 1949. The Social Democrats, Merkel’s former coalition partner, dropped about five points to 20.5 per cent. Merkel will now turn to pro-business FDP liberals (ten per cent) and the Greens (nine per cent) to rule. Such an arrangement will force her to reconcile contradictory stances within her own coalition while balancing the tide of the AfD.
The world will be looking to Merkel to deliver in the wake of the dramatically shifted international political landscape.
The rise of Donald Trump has severely damaged the standing of the United States in the world.
In Europe, Brexit threatens to fragment the entire union. Turbulent developments continue in relation to North Korea, Venezuela and Russia.
Merkel is poised to become something of a pillar of strength amid all of this. But the question is whether her brand of politics is robust enough to overcome the serious tests ahead. It is clear, for now, however, that that brand will be instructive as the global fragmentation of political ideologies continues. Could a more Merkel-like approach be the key to healing rifts in the US?
It should also be noted that Merkel’s victory makes her one of the most successful female political leaders in the world. She joins figures like Theresa May of Britain, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de factor leader.
It could well be that the time has come for a global push for gender parity in politics.
With threats of war looming, perhaps it is time for more women like Merkel to take charge and return our planet to security and prosperity.