As the German general elections inch closer, the current Chancellor, Angela Merkel, seems to be the odd-on favorite to win.
So, how has this centrist politician retained power despite the rise of fringe populism?
Angela Merkel became the 34th Chancellor of Germany in 2005 and has since been in power. She is also the leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). A former research scientist, she became a politician in 1989. By 1991, she had been appointed the Minister for Women and Youth in the federal government under Chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1991. In 1994, she was the Minister of Environment.
In 2005, she had become the first female Chancellor of Germany. By 2013, during the general election, Merkel was seen as a reliable leader in Germany. Her party won the election with 41.5% of the vote. It was a landslide victory. She is a strong proponent of transatlantic economic relations and seen as flagbearer for free trade. She is the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the European Union.
Martin Schulz, the leader of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), was seen as some as a notable opponent for Merkel. However, his sway has weakened lately with the SPD suffering big losses in three regional elections.
Merkel on the other hand is still enjoying the support of the German public. The most recent poll by Infratest Dimap, revealed that 59% of Germans approve of the job done by Merkel. Despite the heavy criticism she has faced domestically regarding the issue of refugees, she has remained steadfast with implementing her agenda. In 2015, she came under fire for opening Germany to asylum seekers. At the time, she told the Germans that “we will manage” and did not change course.
She has emerged as one of the few leaders across the world who have stood up to the populism. She hasn’t shied from criticizing the US government or US President Donald Trump.
A recent Pew survey revealed that 42% of the global population trusts Angela Merkel to do the right thing. In contrast, Trump was shown to have the support of 22% of the world population. A leading commentator Heribert Prantl wrote in an editorial for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, that the German public sees her as a steadying hand. Prantl writes, “People are still satisfied with ‘being in the black’ with Merkel because in a world that is topsy-turvy and being ruled by so many crazy people, they’d quite like to keep her, simply because she’s not mad, but capable and experienced.”
Our assessment is that Merkel has won the trust of the Germans by remaining steadfast to her beliefs. She has proven herself globally and domestically as someone who is willing to go against the tide in order to do the right thing. A politician with no populist leanings, she has been called by many as the real “leader of the free world.”