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ELECTION

Merkel hails ‘democratic election’ in Burma

German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi Monday on winning her first bid for a seat in parliament, calling the election a victory for democracy.

Merkel hails 'democratic election' in Burma
Photo: DPA

Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said the German leader had followed the by-elections Sunday “with great interest”, and she felt they underlined the success of the country’s nascent reform process.

“The citizens of the country have given a very impressive mandate for the future political work of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate,” he said at a press conference.

“The opposition and the government should now be encouraged after this by-election to continue on the path of democratisation and reforms that they embarked on together,” he added.

Seibert said the “largely democratic election” marked an “important success on the path of national reconciliation and democratic opening in Burma.”

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party said it was on course to win all 44 seats it contested in the by-elections, in which a total of 45 seats were at stake – not enough to threaten the army-backed ruling party’s huge majority in parliament.

The results marked a stunning turnaround for Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner, who was locked up by the former junta for most of the past 22 years.

After almost half a century of military rule, the junta handed power to a new government led by President Thein Sein a year ago.

The regime has surprised even its critics with a string of reforms such as releasing hundreds of political prisoners.

But remaining political captives, fighting between government troops and rebels, and alleged human rights abuses remain concerning for Western nations, who have imposed sanctions on the regime.

EU Parliament president Martin Schulz said he was “encouraged” by the elections “despite reported irregularities, which I hope will be addressed promptly by the authorities.”

“I am convinced this vote will be deemed as historic,” he said. “If followed by further reforms, it could be a turning point in Myanmar’s history, marking the departure from autocracy to the path of democracy.”

He renewed his invitation for Suu Kyi, who had spent much of the past two decades under house arrest, to visit the European Parliament to receive the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which she was awarded in 1990.

AFP/jcw

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POLITICS

How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

While far-right groups have been celebrating, other politicians in Germany see the results as worrying. Here's a look at the reaction.

How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

According to initial projections following Italy’s election on Sunday, the coalition led by Georgia Meloni and her radical right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party has won a majority of seats in the two chambers of the Italian parliament and will lead the next government. 

Meloni is a euro-sceptic who has previously spoken about having an “aversion” to Germany and referred to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as “socialist” while on the campaign trail.

However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s deputy spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters on Monday: “We of course have to wait for the official final result from this election but at this time what the chancellor would say is that Italy is a very Europe-friendly country with very Europe-friendly citizens and we assume that won’t change.” 

READ ALSO: What will a far-right government mean for Italy?

A Finance Ministry spokesperson added that Berlin expected the new Italian government to continue to respect the stability pact that sets the fiscal rules for the eurozone.

Despite these reassurances from the central government, German politicians in the EU parliament have expressed concern about the new direction for Italy.  

Rasmus Andresen, spokesman for the German Greens in the EU Parliament, said the “unprecedented Italian slide to the right” will have massive repercussions for Europe and for the European Union.

“Italy, as a founding member and the third strongest economy in the EU, is heading for an anti-democratic and anti-European government.”

Though Meloni no longer wants Italy to leave the eurozone, she has said that Rome must assert its interests more and has policies that look set to challenge Brussels on everything from public spending rules to mass migration.

The Greens’ co-leader in Brussels, Thomas Waitz, told Die Welt that the EU can only function if it sticks together, for example on cooperation in energy markets, decisions on Russian sanctions or dealing with the Covid crisis. “Meloni, on the other hand, would back national go-it-alones. It can be a disaster for Europe,”  he said. 

READ ALSO: Euro falls to 20-year low against US dollar

The FDP’s expert on Europe, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, takes a similar view. He said on ARD’s Morgenmagazin that cooperation with Italy in the European Union will become more difficult. He said that it will now be much more difficult to achieve unity in Europe, especially on the issues of migration, reform of the Stability and Growth Pact and the single market.

Speaking on RTL, Green Party leader Omid Nouripour called the election results in Italy “worrying” and pointed out that people within the Italian right-wing nationalist alliance have “very close entanglements with the Kremlin”.

“We can’t rule out the possibility that people in Moscow also popped the corks last night,” he said.

Germany’s own far-right party – Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – has been celebrating the victory. 

AfD member of the Bundestag Beatrix von Storch wrote “We cheer with Italy!” on Twitter late Sunday evening.

Referring to the recent elections in Sweden, where the right was also successful, von Storch wrote: “Sweden in the north, Italy in the south: left-wing governments are so yesterday.”

Her party colleague Malte Kaufmann tweeted, “A good day for Italy – a good day for Europe.”

With reporting from AFP

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