How Peer Steinbrück became the Bob Dole of German politics


Peer Steinbrück is not going to be Germany’s next chancellor.Germany Flag Icon

Steinbrück’s standing in opinion polls has worsened since it became clear he would become the chancellor candidate of the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, the Social Democratic Party) — the more that Germans get to know Steinbrück (pictured above), the more they dislike him, no matter how many Bavarian mountains he climbs between now and September 22.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that chancellor Angela Merkel is assured of reelection, because while her own Christlich Demokratische Union (Christian Democratic Union), together with the Bavarian Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union), leads the SPD in polls, it’s uncertain whether its smaller coalition partner, the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democrats), will win enough support to meet the 5% threshold to win seats in the Bundestag, the German parliament, though the FDP has ticked ever so slightly upwards in polls in the past couple of months.

Polls have been consistently remarkable since before 2013 began, and they make for grim reading if you’re an SPD supporter.  Here’s the state of things with about six weeks to go until voting:


That wouldn’t just mean a loss, it would mean a Bob Dole-style loss —  think back to the 1996 presidential election when Democratic incumbent Bill Clinton, who seemed so vulnerable after the 1994 midterm elections brought a Republican sweep of Congress, sailed to reelection against Dole.  Clinton aides disparagingly joked after the fact that it was like virtually running for reelection unopposed.  Dole won just 40.7% of the popular vote to 49.2% for Clinton — a landslide the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the United States since.

To put into perspective the kind of loss that Steinbrück and the SPD is facing, it’s important to remember what happened in the previous 2009 election, which at the time was the SPD’s worst postwar election result.  Under Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who had served as foreign minister and deputy chancellor in the Merkel-led ‘grand coalition,’ the SPD won just 146 seats in the Bundestag (a drop of 76 seats) with just 23% of the party vote and 28% of the constituency vote.  (Half of the 598 Bundestag seats are determined in first-past-the-post single-member constituencies, the other half are determined on the basis of proportional representation on the basis of statewide party lists).

But if Steinmeier’s 2009 performance was a tragedy, Steinbrück’s 2013 performance is turning out to be a farce.  It’s amazing to believe that Steinbrück is in danger of leading the SPD to an even poorer result that Steinmeier’s in 2009, especially with the Greens set to improve on their 2009 performance.  Continue reading How Peer Steinbrück became the Bob Dole of German politics

Rudd’s new policy for asylum seekers tops campaign agenda in Australia


Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd kicked off his campaign for reelection over the weekend after setting September 7 as Australia’s election date — just over a month from today.Australia Flag Icon

Chief among the issues that will dominate the campaign debate is the Australia’s current immigration conundrum, which has been the subject of Rudd’s most controversial policy reversal since he ousted former prime minister Julia Gillard five weeks ago in the latest of years of intraparty battles to become the leader of the Labor Party and, once again, prime minister.  Rudd last month reintroduced elements of the ‘Pacific solution’ of former prime minister John Howard — a solution that Rudd abandoned as prime minister in 2007 — in a shift on asylum policy that leaves Labor now arguably to the right of anything the Howard government ever enacted.

Imagine, for a moment, that back in 2001, then-president George W. Bush introduced a policy that any foreign national apprehended crossing the southern U.S. border would be shipped to either, say, Greenland or Grenada, with whom U.S. officials negotiated a special arrangement to hold and process migrants bound for the United States.

Now imagine that Democratic president Barack Obama won election in 2008 on a promise to end that policy, and that he promptly did so — only to reintroduce the ‘Greenland solution’ a month before seeking reelection — with the added caveat that foreign nationals will never be resettled in the United States, just in Greenland and Grenada.

Though that’s not exactly what Australia is doing, it’s pretty close.  Rudd, who initially came to power on a promise to reverse the ‘Pacific solution’ six years ago, has now embraced a version of the ‘Pacific solution’ on steroids just one month before Australia’s general election — asylum seekers traveling to Australia by boat will be transferred to Papua New Guinea and Nauru where, if they qualify for asylum, will be resettled in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, not in Australia.

Rudd’s shift has left opposition leader Tony Abbott, flat-footed on an issue that Abbott was expected to use to advantage in the coming election, but it’s left Rudd subject to criticism that he’s carelessly tossing aside the human rights of asylum seekers, to say nothing of his previous principles, in order boost his own reelection chances.

Although Australia has always been a popular draw for migrants, the latest crisis stems from the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the number of refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan (and also from Vietnam, Myanmar/Burma and Sri Lanka) began to rise.  Howard instituted the ‘Pacific solution’ in 2001 — Australian naval officials who apprehended refugees off the coast of Australia would no longer escort them to Australia, but instead transfer them to processing centers on Christmas Island, on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru where, eventually, each refugee’s asylum case would be reviewed.  While some refugees were eventually granted asylum in Australia and New Zealand, around a third of the refugees were refused asylum and sent home.

The policy seems to have worked because boat migration fell rapidly by the mid-2000s.

But when Rudd came to power in November 2007, his Labor government quickly ended the policy, in part due to criticism from human rights organizations over the sanitary conditions at the processing centers and the lengthy amount of time that asylum-seekers would spend in detention at the centers.   It was one element of Rudd’s ‘Big Australia’ campaign to reduce barriers to immigration and boost the country’s population.

But look what’s happened since 2007:


Ending the ‘Pacific solution’ eliminated what had become a massive disincentive to the decision to risk life and safety to seek a better future in Australia.  So the Rudd policy encourage an unprecedented wave of migration, supplemented by six years of suppressed demand, and all of the horrors that come with it, including the horrors of people trafficking, higher incidence of fatal crashes at sea.  For Australian policymakers, asylum policy had become a lose-lose proposition: the ‘Pacific solution’ left the Australians subject to charges of humanitarian lapses and of subcontracting its moral responsibility to the much-poorer Papua New Guinea; the revocation of the ‘Pacific solution’ encouraged dangerous migration that led to habitual headlines of death and exploitation in its northern seas. (Here’s one narrative of the long and arduous journey from Afghanistan to Australia from Amnesty International).  Continue reading Rudd’s new policy for asylum seekers tops campaign agenda in Australia