Monday, March 28, 2011

Germany: Greens win historic electoral triumph

State elections on March 27 saw the German Greens win an historic victory in Baden-Württemberg – where they will form Germany’s first-ever Green-led government – and triple their vote in the Rheinland-Pfalz.

Riding on widespread public opposition to nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the Greens doubled their support to 24.2 percent of the vote in Baden-Württemberg.

The centre-left Social-Democratic Party (SPD) won 23.1 percent of the vote – a small drop on their 2006 result – while the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won 39 percent of the vote, down by over 5 points.

The CDU’s ruling coalition partner – the neoliberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) – lost more than half its support, dropping to 5.3 percent – barely enough to remain in the Landtag (state parliament).

The socialist party Die Linke (“The Left”), which took 24 percent in state elections in the eastern state of Sachsen-Anhalt on March 20, won only 2.8 percent of the vote – not enough to enter parliament.

The results mean that Baden-Württemberg will be governed by a Green-SPD coalition, led by the Greens’ Winfried Kretschmann – a founding member of the party in Baden-Württemberg and now the first ever Greens state Minister-Präsident (Premier).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Germany: State election weakens Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) survived a narrow vote in elections for the eastern state of Sachsen-Anhalt. 

The right-wing CDU lost 3% of the vote from the previous elections, dropping to 32.6% support. The two other big parties in the state, the far left Die Linke and the centrist Social Democrats (SPD), remained steady on 23.8% and 21.5% respectively.

Merkel’s allies at a federal level - the pro-free market Free Democrats - failed to cross the 5% threshold needed to win a seat, as did the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD). 

The lead NPD candidate Matthias Heyder is under investigation for discussing terrorist methods and bomb-making techniques on an online forum. Right-wing and racist violence nearly doubled in Sachsen-Anhalt in 2010.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Germany: Protests force nuclear closures after Fukushima disaster

Facing public outrage and concern over the nuclear meltdown unfolding in Japan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced the temporary shutdown of several of that country's nuclear reactors.

On March 12, over 60,000 anti-nuclear protesters in the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg formed a 45 kilometre human chain,
stretching from Stuttgart to the Neckarwestheim 1 nuclear plant.

Smaller protests took place in more than 450 towns and cities across Germany, according to anti-nuclear organisation "Ausgestrahlt" (Irradiated), and more protests are planned for March 26.

Merkel responded by announcing on March 15 that all 17 German nuclear plants would undergo safety checks. Of these, the oldest seven – all of which began operating before 1980 – would be shut down for three months, beginning immediately with the Isar 1 power plant in Bavaria.

Two of the seven older plants are already shut down – one is undergoing maintenance, while the other was taken offline in 2007 after an accident.

The move has been criticised by anti-nuclear groups and opposition parties as inadequate, and as a cynical, dishonest manoeuvre, designed only to arrest the desperate decline in support for Merkel’s ruling part, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ireland: Ruling party crushed, left gains in poll

On February 25, Ireland’s governing party, Fianna Fáil, and its coalition partner the Green Party, were massacred in a general election revolt.

The most successful establishment party in Western Europe for the past 80 years, Fianna Fáil were demolished – reduced from 77 to only 20 seats on the back of public outrage over austerity measures and social spending cuts.

In Dublin, Fianna Fáil was reduced from 19 seats to one.

The Greens - its partners in political crime - were wiped out entirely, failing to win a single seat in Dáil Éireann (Ireland’s parliament) and winning less than 2% of the vote.

Voters punished the government for its handling of the global financial crisis, which saw Fianna Fáil bankrupt the country by bailing out Ireland’s major banks to the tune of €45 billion.

To get out of the financial black hole - and 13.6% unemployment - it had created, the government then pawned the country for as much as €100 billion in financial loans from the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The austerity measures demanded by the IMF and EU agreement will result in 30,000 public sector jobs being cut and social spending reduced for years to come.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bobby Sands: 30 years on hunger strike - never defeated.

On March 1, 1981, Irish Republican political prisoner Roibeárd Gearóid Ó Seachnasaigh - known to all the world as Bobby Sands - went on hunger strike in Britain's "H-Block" prison cells of Long Kesh prison.

He went on hunger strike after he and fellow Republican prisoners had gone on a failed "blanket strike" - refusing to wear prison uniforms - as a protest against Britain's refusal to recognise their status as political prisoners in the struggle for Irish freedom.

In 1978, after a number of them were attacked leaving their cells to empty their chamber pots, their protest escalated into a "dirty protest" - the prisoners refused to wash and smeared the walls of their cells with excrement.

When that strategy too failed to budge the Brits, some among the "blanket men" decided to raise the stakes for political recognition, and volunteered for hunger strike.

The first hunger strike - in late 1980 - won the promise of recognition. However, when Britain refused to carry through its promises, a new coordinated effort began with Bobby Sands on March 1, 1981.

Sands - despite being elected to British parliament from his prison cell - was allowed to starve to death, without his demands being met, the Thatcher government refusing to compromise.

Sands' hunger strike lasted 66 days before - wasted and starved - his body collapsed.

Germany: Police attack anti-Nazi protesters

On February 19, more than 21,000 anti-fascist protesters took to the streets to stop up to 3,000 neo-Nazis from commemorating the Allied firebombing of Dresden during World War II. 

The police again protected the fascists from protesters, but - unlike in 2009 - didn't give them an armed guard in their march.

For the second year running, the anti-fascists successfully stopped the march form taking place, and the neo-Nazis were forced to leave the town centre via the railway to the nearby town of Leipzig, where they were also denied the right to march.

The victory was again marred by police violence against the anti-fascists.

Germany: Christian Democrats crushed in Hamburg poll

The ruling party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel was resoundingly defeated in state elections in Hamburg on February 20. 
The right-wing Christian Democratic Union's (CDU) vote nearly halved, down from 42.6% to only 21.9%. The "centre-left" Social Democrats (SPD) won 48.3% - a massive swing in their favour and enough for them to govern in their own right.

The result - after 10 years of rule - was the worst for the CDU in Hamburg since World War II.

The Green Party, which had been in coalition government with the CDU in Hamburg, won only a modest increase to 11.2%. The result was doubly disappointing for them as they had been hoping to skip from one coalition government to another, without so much as blinking.

The SPD's high vote has banished them to opposition.