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European elections

German SPD overtakes Greens, close in on conservatives before election

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A car passes near an election poster showing Olaf Scholz, German Minister of Finance and top candidate of the The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), who holds a letter for postal voting in Hanover, Germany August 17, 2021. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer
Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader and the party's top candidate for parliamentary elections Armin Laschet speaks during a news conference after a party leadership meeting, in Berlin, Germany August 16, 2021. REUTERS/Christian Mang/Pool

Germany's centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) have overtaken the Greens and are closing the gap with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives less than six weeks before a federal election, an opinion poll showed on Wednesday (18 August), writes Madeline Chambers, Reuters.

Support for the conservative bloc led by Armin Laschet, who has been widely seen as frontrunner to succeed Merkel as chancellor after the 26 September election, has ebbed since the end of June, when it was polling at 28%-30%.

The latest poll by research institute Forsa put the conservatives on 23%, unchanged from a week ago. The Social Democrats (SPD), whose chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz tops the popularity ratings, was up 2 points at 21%.

This is the slimmest gap between the two parties since March 2017 and opens various coalition options. The most likely scenario until a few weeks ago, a conservative-Greens alliance, now seems less likely.

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The Greens, led by chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock, were down 1 point at 19%.

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has had little impact on voting intentions although Germany had the second-largest military contingent there after the United States and is trying to evacuate people.

After 16 years leading Europe's biggest economy, Merkel is stepping down as chancellor after the election. Her bloc, made up of her Christian Democrats and the Bavarian Christian Social Union, looks to be missing her electoral pull.

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The ratings of Laschet, premier of the most populous German state, North Rhine-Westphalia, have dropped since he was seen laughing on a visit to a flood-stricken town and had to apologise. read more

Voters widely see Scholz, finance minister in Merkel's coalition, as a safe pair of hands. Some 29% of respondents told Forsa they would back Scholz if there were a direct vote for chancellor, about 17 points ahead of Laschet. Baerbock was on 15%.

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Bulgaria

Tired of rampant graft, Bulgarians vote in presidential election

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A combination picture shows incumbent President Rumen Radev and presidential candidate Anastas Gerdzhikov as they arrive at the Bulgarian National Television for an election debate ahead of the second round of the presidential election, in Sofia, Bulgaria, November 18, 2021. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Bulgarians voted on Sunday (21 November) to choose the country's next president in a run-off election, weary of widespread corruption in the European Union's poorest member state amid rising energy costs and high death toll from the coronavirus, writes Tsvetelia Tsolova.

Incumbent President Rumen Radev, 58, an advocate of change aimed at cleaning Bulgaria's image as the EU's most corrupt member state, appears poised for a new 5-year term after winning 49.5% of the votes in the first round on Nov. 14.

He competes with Sofia University Rector, Anastas Gerdzhikov, 58, who won 22.8% of the vote last week and is backed by the country's towering politician of the past decade, ex-premier Boyko Borissov who was ousted from power in April.

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The presidential post is largely ceremonial, but comes to prominence in times of political crisis, when the head of the state can appoint interim cabinets. The presidency also gives a high tribune to influence the public opinion.

Radev, a former air-force commander, has gained popularity for his open support of massive anti-graft protests against Borissov in 2020 and for appointing interim cabinets that brought to light murky public procurement deals of his last centre-right cabinet. Borissov has denied any wrongdoing.

A new anti-graft party, We Continue The Change (PP), set up by two Harvard-educated entrepreneurs who Radev appointed as interim ministers in May, won the parliamentary election last week. Read more.

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Radev is supported by Borissov's political opponents -- PP, the Socialists and the anti-elite ITN party which, along with another anti-graft faction, are holding talks to form a government.

"Radev is a front-runner, but much will depend on whether his supporters will actually go to cast a ballot," said political analyst Daniel Smilov with Sofia-based Centre for Liberal Strategies.

Gerdzhikov, a respected Professor in Ancient and Medieval Literature, has accused Radev of pitting Bulgarians against one another and pledged to unite the nation, hit by COVID-related death rates that are among the highest in the EU and soaring energy costs.

Gerdzhikov is a strong supporter of NATO-member Bulgaria's Western alliances, and has campaigned to improve business opportunities and support judicial reforms to improve rule of law in the country of 7 million people.

Radev, who campaigned in 2016 for the lifting of Western sanctions against Russia, said Bulgaria must keep pragmatic ties with Moscow and should not view it as an enemy, not least because of close historical and cultural links.

His comments that the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, was "currently Russian", prompted protests from Kiyv. Read more.

The elected president takes office in January next year.

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European elections

Portugal's Socialists gain support ahead of snap election, poll shows

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Portugal's President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa addresses the nation to announce his decision to dissolve parliament triggering snap general elections, in Belem Palace, in Lisbon, Portugal November 4, 2021. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes/File Photo

Portugal's ruling Socialists lead the race to win an election in January with more votes than they took in 2019, but short of a full majority, according to the first poll of voting intentions taken since parliament rejected their budget last week, write Andrei Khalip and Sergio Goncalves, Reuters.

The combined left, including Prime Minister Antonio Costa's former hard-left partners who helped sink the budget bill and trigger the snap election, would retain a majority of seats in parliament, taking 52% of the vote, according to the survey by Aximage pollsters.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa on Thursday (4 November) called the early ballot for Jan. 30 after the budget's defeat ended six years of relative political stability under the Socialists. Read more.

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The government is still serving in full capacity until parliament is formally dissolved.

Political analysts say an election alone might not solve the political impasse as no single party or workable alliance is likely to achieve a stable majority. Most consider the left's alliance all but impossible to rebuild due to mutual distrust.

The centre-left Socialists would garner 38.5% of the vote, about one percentage point more than in a previous poll in July, and up from 36.3% they took in the 2019 general election.

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The main opposition Social Democrats were on 24.4%, falling from 25.2% in July and nearly 28% in the last election.

The Left Bloc, on 8.8% now after taking 9.5% in 2019, would remain the third most popular party, closely followed by the rising far-right party Chega, which is polling at 7.7%, up sharply from just 1.3% in 2019.

The Communist Party, which along with the Left Bloc was once the government's partner in parliament, would get 4.6%.

Part of the Aximage poll released on Thursday showed that 54% of respondents thought a snap election would be "bad for the country", with 68% believing that no party would win a majority of seats in parliament.

Aximage surveyed 803 people between 28-31 October.

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European elections

German SPD, Greens and FDP leaders want formal coalition talks

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Leaders from Germany's centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and two smaller parties will recommend to their parties moving into formal coalition talks and have agreed a roadmap for negotiations, SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz said on Friday (15 October), write Paul Carrel, Andreas Rinke, Holger Hansen, Maria Sheahan and Sarah Marsh, Reuters.

The Social Democrats, who came first in last month's election, the Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) said exploratory talks on whether they had enough in common to form a government together had been constructive.

"A new start is possible with the three parties coming together," Scholz told a news conference.

FDP leader Christian Lindner said the "traffic light" coalition - named after the party colors of the SPD, the FDP and the Greens - was an "opportunity".

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"If such different parties could agree on joint challenges and solutions, then that would be an opportunity to unite our country," he said, "a chance that a possible coalition could be greater than the sum of its parts."

This would be the first time such a "traffic light" coalition governed at a federal level and would put an end to 16 years of rule by the conservatives under Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"We are now convinced there has not been an opportunity like this to modernize society, the economy and the government for a very long time," Lindner told the news conference.

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All three parties are expected to deliver a decision today (18 October) on whether or not to go forward with the talks, Scholz said.

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