By Prarthana Mitra
In a secret ballot on Wednesday morning, German lawmakers and Bundestag members voted to re-elect Angela Merkel as Chancellor of Germany for a fourth term; 364 of the Bundestag’s 709 members voted in favour of Merkel, thus bringing to a close six months of political turmoil.
With 171 days elapsing between the federal election and the appointment of a leader, this has been the longest interim period in German history.
Return of elected government
“I think everyone has the feeling it’s time to finally start working,” Merkel said in expectation of her re-election on Monday. “A new departure for Europe, a new dynamic for Germany, new cohesion for our county– that’s what we have before us.”
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in his speech nominating Merkel as Chancellor on Wednesday addressed the immediate need for the elected government to win back the trust of the German people and protect liberal democracy, alluding to the rise of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
Merkel’s authority was considerably weakened by the post-election coalition last year when the nation voted against two major parties, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD), choosing left-wing and right-wing parties as an alternative.
New cabinet portfolios in Merkel’s coalition
Merkel’s new term christens a new lease of life for the grand coalition (“GroKo”) between the Chancellor’s CDU/Christian Social Union alliance and the SPD. However, the negotiations leading up to the new government have not been smooth, with many members of the SPD continually resenting the coalition, and calling it a “joyless alliance”. This can also be seen in the Wednesday polls as thirty-five MPs among Merkel’s allies did not vote to re-elect her, denoting not all is well for the grand coalition.
Merkel’s decision to offer significant positions like finance and foreign affairs in her new cabinet to SPD members was met with criticism and dismay within her party. To quieten this dissent, Merkel has named outspoken critic Jens Spahn as her new health minister.
AfD and dealing with the opposition
However, the renewal of the coalition also means that the AfD is now officially the lead opposition party in parliament. Merkel, who will be leaving for a Paris peace summit on Friday, asserted that refugee and EU reform will be on top of the coalition’s priorities. The coalition has also promised to work towards an independent Europe while strengthening its ties with the United States.
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