The Straits Times says

Europe centrists' battle with populism

Europe's cherished political centre continues to come under attack. The continent's largest economy Germany was last week engulfed in a political storm that tested the ground rule that the mainstream parties do not sup with the far-right parties. Chancellor Angela Merkel's chosen successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was forced to resign after she failed to prevent party members from voting with the far-right AfD to elect a conservative candidate as the premier in a small eastern state. The larger dilemma for Mrs Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union remains unresolved: how to deal with populism. Some in the party stick with shunning the far-right, given its association with Germany's Nazi past. Others seek to revise this untouchable tag pinned on the AfD, the democratically elected anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant outfit that is currently the largest opposition party in the Bundestag.

The battle to preserve the centre is being waged in Ireland concurrently. Last week's general election, in one of the European Union's fastest-growing economies, saw voters turn up their noses at the two mainstream political parties. Instead, they propelled the left-wing Sinn Fein, giving it the second-largest number of seats in Parliament. The voters, who appeared to have punished Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's centre-right Fine Gael party for not solving housing problems and failing to address the high cost of living, gave no single party enough votes to form a government. Both Mr Varadkar's party, and the first-placed centrist Fianna Fail party, have ruled out a coalition with the Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the IRA, which waged a violent decades-long campaign to force Britain from Northern Ireland. It may be months before a new government is formed - and it will have to contend with Sinn Fein's populist presence and unification agenda.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2020, with the headline 'Europe centrists' battle with populism'. Subscribe