German Chancellor Angela Merkel's heir apparent faced criticism across Germany's political spectrum Tuesday after she called for rules about expressing online opinions before elections in response to a YouTube video that criticized her party.
The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) chief's comment came after her party and its center-left coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), suffered their worst scores in Sunday's European election, a result partly blamed on the fact that some 70 YouTube stars had urged Germans not to vote for either party. The 70 YouTubers' call to vote against the conservative CDU, its coalition partner SPD and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD ) party was a follow-up to an hour-long video rant from a popular 26-year-old blogger named Rezo, who called on voters to reject the two parties for betraying the young by not addressing the climate crisis. Put online on May 18, the clip had been viewed 12.6 million times by yesterday, forcing Merkel's party into crisis-fighting mode.
Addressing the issue Monday night, CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said if 70 newspaper editors had called to boycott parties ahead of an election that would be classed "clearly as propaganda." "That would have been clear propagandizing before the election, and I believe it would have unleashed a lively debate," she added. "So, the question remains: what are the rules from the analogue era and how do they apply in the digital era?" She later defended her remarks, tweeting, "It is absurd to assume that I want to regulate opinions." "But what we have to talk about are the rules that apply during election campaigns." Her comments immediately sparked a storm on social media with #AKKRuecktritt (AKKresign), #annegate, #Zensur (censorship) and #Meinungsfreiheit (freedom of opinion) making up the top four topics trending on Twitter in Germany. Many users pointed to Article 5 in the German Constitution guaranteeing freedom of opinion, speech and writing. The German Federation of Journalists also hit out against her call, calling it "not just nonsense but also a violation of the constitution."
Kramp-Karrenbauer, widely known by her initials AKK, later tried to downplay her comments, saying it was "ridiculous to insinuate that I want to regulate expressions of opinion." "Freedom of opinion is a precious value in a democracy. But what we have to talk about are rules that apply during elections," she wrote on Twitter. AKK replaced Merkel as head of the CDU last December and is expected to seek the top job when Merkel's term ends in 2021. But she has since made a series of gaffes that have raised questions about her suitability to become chancellor once Merkel relinquishes the post, which she plans to hold onto until 2021. In March, Kramp-Karrenbauer drew sharp criticism from her Social Democrat coalition partners for poking fun at transgender people in a light-hearted carnival speech. In February, she was ridiculed for addressing a high-profile meeting of her conservative CDU party by calling them social democrats. In an opinion piece in its online edition yesterday, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote: "Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is making so many mistakes that her suitability as chancellor must be in doubt."
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