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Nuclear issue weighs on German elections amid Japanese scare
Published in Saudi Press Agency on 17 - 03 - 2011

Akhir 12, 1432 / March 17, 2011, SPA -- A political U-turn by German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week over Germany's nuclear programme could factor heavily into a series of upcoming key state elections, dpa reported.
The question is whether the move to put off a decision to extend
nuclear power plant lifetimes, designed to respond to public
sentiment, will chime with the public or be seen as a nakedly
opportunistic move by a nervous politician - a charge she rejects.
"This is not a deal. This is not an agreement. This is a usage of
the atomic laws under a new environment," she said Thursday. "We
shouldn't be accused of legalistic tricks when none can be
substantiated."
It remains to be seen what voters think when they go to the polls
in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday and then, a week
later, in elections in the key states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and
Rhineland Palatinate.
As Japan's nuclear threat grew, Merkel took action that left eight
of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors sidelined - some permanently, as she
announced stringent security checks. The move backtracked on a much-
criticized decision eight months ago to extend the lifespans of those
power plants.
Japan, Merkel argued, had forced a re-evaluation of the risks
involved in nuclear energy, as scenarios deemed impossible were
playing out in real life.
Merkel, opponents argued, was merely pulling a political stunt to
improve her election chances.
The return of the nuclear issue brings back a topic that could
play poorly for Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and one that the
party likely hoped to lay to rest by dealing with it last year, well
ahead of the upcoming round of elections.
The state elections are key because, should the CDU lose more
power at the state level, it will lose more influence in the upper
legislative house, or Bundesrat, further weakening Merkel on the
national level.
Until now in Saxony-Anhalt, Merkel's the CDU had a good chance of
continuing their alliance with the centre-left Social Democrats
(SPD).
This arrangement, which has been largely consensual, is contested
by the radical Left Party, whose popularity in the former East German
state has made them a tempting alternative partner for the SPD.
A recent poll in Saxony-Anhalt for broadcaster ARD gave the CDU 33
per cent, the SPD 24 per cent, the Left party 25, Green 5.5 per cent.
The far-right NPD polled 5 per cent, which would see them clear
the threshold to enter the regional parliament in Magdeburg.
The Saxony-Anhalt election had so far been dominated by local
issues, according to political scientist Nils Diderich.
These include the state's huge public debt and above-average
unemployment of 13 per cent, and the challenges of depopulation as
young people leave to seek employment elsewhere.
But this could change, as rolling TV images of the explosions at
Japan's Fukushima reactor, and the growing radiation risks, have
prompted strong reactions across Germany, where memories remain vivid
of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
In the prosperous southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, which is
home to four nuclear reactors, it could be harder for Merkel's CDU to
win favour ahead of the March 27 election.
Last Saturday, a day after Japan was hit by the earthquake and
tsunami, a planned anti-nuclear demonstration swelled to 40,000
people, forming a 45-kilometre human chain. More demonstrations have
been announced for March 26, a day before the polls.
The renewed uncertainty over nuclear power plays into the arms of
Baden-Wuerttemberg's opposition SDP and the anti-nuclear Greens, who
were already stiff contenders to Merkel centre-right coalition with
the Free Democrats.
State premier Stefan Mappus of the CDU, who has been a staunch
nuclear advocate, was quick to announce that the state's oldest power
station would not reopen after the three-month moratorium to re-
evaluate Germany's nuclear programme.
Across Germany, other state premiers from the CDU have called this
week for the country to end its nuclear power programme sooner,
rather than later.
Losing power in Saxony Anhalt would be tolerable to the government
coalition, costing Merkel two seats in the Bundesrat. Merkel's
coalition already lost its majority there last year.
But losing Baden-Wuerttemberg would be a more serious blow,
reducing her coalition's seats by a further six, to a possible 23 out
of 69.
This would force Merkel to rely ever more on the opposition to
push bills through the Bundesrat, severely hampering her ability to
implement reform during the government's remaining term in office,
which expires in 2013.
-- SPA


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