German Media Roundup: McCain overshadowed by power Palin

US presidential candidate John McCain’s has accepted the Republican nomination, but many of Germany‘s newspapers in The Local’s media roundup remain focused on his surprise pick for vice president, Sarah Palin.

German Media Roundup: McCain overshadowed by power Palin
Photo: DPA

It’s now official: Republican Senator John McCain will take on Democratic Senator Barack Obama in the upcoming US presidential election. Germany’s media has taken particular interest in Obama since his speech in Berlin this summer, which drew over 200,000 people. The junior senator from Illinois is wildly popular in Germany, but this week German papers turned their attention to the Republican national convention.

Publications across the political spectrum devoted considerable coverage to the event – but not necessarily because of McCain, who is already fairly well known in Germany. His speech didn’t go over well with the country’s moderate political tendencies and much like the press in America, German publications were fascinated by the unconventional choice of Alaska’s Governor Sarah Palin to be McCain’s running mate.

The Hamburg-based weekly Die Zeit ripped into McCain on Friday, saying the veteran senator “botched” his speech on Thursday. “He appeared tired, old, pale and without ideas,” the paper commented. “McCain couldn’t present the case to Americans deeply disappointed by George W. Bush why he – the aged Republican senator of 22 years – should stand for change and the future.”

The conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung agreed that “after eight years of Bush America is more than ready for change.” However, the paper wasn’t ready to write off the GOP ticket just yet. “That the pendulum will swing to the left and a Democrat will move into the White House is far from decided. The historic event of the 2008 election year could also be that a woman takes on the role of vice president for the first time.”

By comparison, the centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung didn’t have much good to say about McCain’s acceptance speech on Thursday night. “The elderly senator’s speech was respectable, monotone and over several passages just plain boring,” the paper wrote. “John McCain will never become president this way. The Republican can’t even entice members of his own party to the voting booth like this.”

The Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung praised Palin’s striking impression on convention-goers, but said it foresees some complications stemming from her unvetted background. “Sarah Palin did extremely well at the Republican convention. But that shouldn’t be overrated,” the paper opined. “Too many strange and surprising details have surfaced about the Alaska governor. Apparently McCain’s team didn’t review their choice thoroughly enough prior to the nomination.” And that kind of sloppy negligence isn’t encouraging for someone hoping to take over the White House, the paper added.

However, the Thüringische Landeszeitung in Weimar painted the feisty, self-styled hockey mom in a more positive light. “No one should underestimate Palin,” wrote the daily. “She worked her way to the top and that takes courage and intelligence. It’s not inconceivable that she could end up rivaling the 72-year-old McCain.”


Germany’s far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance

Best known as an anti-migrant party, Germany's far-right AfD has seized on the coronavirus pandemic to court a new type of voter ahead of regional elections in the state of Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday: anti-shutdown activists.

Germany's far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance
Björn Höcke, party chairman in Thuringia, at an election event in Merseburg, Saxony-Anhalt on May 29th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow

“Sending so many people into poverty with so few infections is problematic for us,” is how Oliver Kirchner, the AfD’s top candidate in Saxony-Anhalt, views the measures ordered by the government to halt Covid-19 transmission.

The anti-shutdown stance seems to be paying off in the former East German state. The party is riding high in the polls and even stands a chance of winning a regional election for the first time.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD chooses hardline team ahead of national elections

Surveys have the AfD neck-and-neck with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, with the Bild daily even predicting victory for the far-right party on 26 percent, ahead of the CDU on 25 percent.

In Saxony-Anhalt’s last election in 2016, the CDU was the biggest party, scoring 30 percent and forming a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.

But the CDU has taken a hammering in the opinion polls in recent months, with voters unhappy with the government’s pandemic management and a corruption scandal involving shady coronavirus mask contracts.

Social deprivation

A victory for the AfD would spell a huge upset for the conservatives just four months ahead of a general election in Germany — the first in 16 years not to feature Merkel.

They started out campaigning against the euro currency in 2013. Then in 2015 they capitalised on public anger over Merkel’s 2015 decision to let in a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The party caused a sensation in Germany’s last general election in 2017 when it secured almost 13 percent of the vote, entering parliament for the first time as the largest opposition party.

Troubled by internal divisions and accusations of ties to neo-Nazi fringe groups, the party has more recently seen its support at the national level stagnate at between 10 and 12 percent.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD investigated over election ties

The party is also controversial in Saxony-Anhalt itself. In state capital Magdeburg, posters showing local candidate Hagen Kohl have been defaced with Hitler moustaches and the words “Never again”.

For wine merchant Jan Buhmann, 57, victory for the far-right party would be a “disaster”.

“The pandemic has shown that we need new ideas. We need young people, we need dynamism in the state. For me, the AfD does not stand for that,” he said.

Yet the AfD’s core supporters have largely remained unwavering in the former East German states.

For pensioner Hans-Joachim Peters, 73, the AfD is “the only party that actually tells it like it is”.

Politicians should “think less about Europe and more about Germany”, he told AFP in Magdeburg. AfD campaigners there were handing out flyers calling for “resistance” and “an end to all anti-constitutional restrictions on our liberties”.

Political scientist Hajo Funke of Berlin’s Free University puts the AfD’s core strength in eastern Germany down to “social deprivation and frustration” resulting from problems with reunification.

The party’s latest anti-corona restrictions stance has also helped it play up its anti-establishment credentials, adding some voters to its core base, he said.

Other east German states in which the AfD has a stronghold, such as Saxony and Thuringia, continue to have the highest 7-day incidences per 100,000 residents in the country. Saxony-Anhalt’s 7-day incidence, however, currently is below the national average (31.3) as of Wednesday June 3rd.

READ ALSO: Why are coronavirus figures so high in German regions with far-right leanings?

Hijab snub

Funke predicted the AfD would attract broadly the same voters in
Saxony-Anhalt as it did in 2016, when it won 24 percent of the vote.

“Some have dropped off because the party is too radical, some radicals who didn’t vote are now voting and some of those who are anti-corona are also voting for the AfD,” he said.

The Sachsen-Anhalt-Monitor 2020 report, commissioned by the local government, found that the main concern for voters in the region was the economic fallout from the pandemic. But the AfD’s core selling point — immigration and refugees — was number two on their list.

According to AfD candidate Kirchner, many people in Saxony-Anhalt still view the influx of refugees to Germany “very critically”.

“And I think they are right,” he said at a campaign stand in Magdeburg decked in the AfD’s signature blue. “Who is going to rebuild Syria? Who is going to do that if everyone comes here?”

When a young woman wearing a hijab walked past the stand, no one attempted to hand her a flyer.

By Femke Colborne