In Germany, Far-Right Party Strikes A Blow To Merkel's Ruling Party

Sep 19, 2016
Originally published on September 19, 2016 8:31 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's turn now to Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel's political party suffered an historic defeat in elections in Berlin yesterday. This is the second time this month where voters have lashed out against her. And in an unusually emotional exchange with reporters this morning, she called this outcome bitter.

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CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German).

GREENE: Let's turn now to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who's in the German capital, Berlin. She's been covering these elections. Soraya, good morning.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So why is this such a bitter moment for Chancellor Merkel?

NELSON: Well, these elections - they're only state elections, so technically it doesn't affect her federal government. But this is sort of her home turf. I mean, this is the capital of Germany. And the previous loss was in her political home base, up in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, as they call it in German. And so she really feels like it's a slap in the face to what she's doing.

And certainly the people or the party that has really done well in these elections that have been going on, Alternative for Germany, have made a point of saying that, Germans, you are no longer safe; you are no longer secure because the chancellor isn't providing that for you. So this was something that she was really reacting to because, again, this was an historic loss today. And they no longer will be ruling here in the city of Berlin - her party, the Christian Democrats.

GREENE: OK, so Alternative for Germany, a party that you say has emerged here and done pretty well, they're telling voters that they're not safe with Angela Merkel. Have they been speaking about their good performance here?

NELSON: They held a press conference this morning and talked about their agenda. They said they were going to be a vocal opposition. They were going to be sensible, wanted to work with everyone - but then launched into the things that have really worked for them - you know, stirring up the xenophobia, talking about no-go zones in Berlin, which - I have yet to come across any. But these are areas - the areas they mentioned are very immigrant-rife. And they're saying it's no longer safe to, you know, take the public transit at night, that they were going to be in every agency and in every place to try and make this a better place.

GREENE: They're literally telling people, don't go to neighborhoods where there are immigrants.

NELSON: Well, they're calling them - no-go zones was the way they referred to them. So they're saying people just don't - the voters are telling them that they don't feel safe. They say they represent the little man, that a lot of the people who voted for them were, in fact, workers and people on pensions, that sort of thing. And so - and they prided themselves on the fact that they were able to raise the voter turnout - that - they claim 11 percent increase in voter turnout was because of them.

GREENE: So how big is the rise of this party? I mean, if there are federal elections coming, could we see some of the members of this party in Parliament? Could Angela Merkel and her job as chancellor be really at stake here?

NELSON: Well, I think that Chancellor Merkel will be around for a while. And I think this speech, which was long in coming, long overdue, will go a long way to hopefully appeasing some people, at least in her party. Or that's what she's hoping for anyway, I should say. But there's no doubt that this party is gaining a lot of strength.

I mean, the fact that they would get almost or more than 14 percent of the vote here in Berlin, in the capital, which is a pretty liberal or left-leaning city, is pretty amazing. And they're already talking about being in the Parliament, about being a vocal opposition there and holding the parties' that were the established parties feet to the fire.

GREENE: We just have a few seconds left, Soraya. But is there a broader lesson about what's happening in Europe, to see a party like this gaining power and, you know, a real backlash against a leader who has had, you know, a refugee policy and has been so central in European politics?

NELSON: Well, she admitted she waited too long to try and work out the details of this refugee policy and that she's come to even hate - or hate to say the phrase, we can do it or, we can manage, which of course has been thrown back at her face by her opponents. So I think she really wants to step up efforts to make the refugee policy more comprehensive and more transparent to voters here.

GREENE: OK, we've been speaking to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin this morning. Soraya, thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.