AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Germany is holding parliamentary elections this Sunday, and the country's chancellor, Angela Merkel, is widely expected to win a mandate for a fourth term. As the leader of the center-right Christian Democrats, Merkel is already one of the longest-serving leaders in modern-day Germany. She's also seen by many as the world's most powerful voice for liberal values and has become something of a foil to Donald Trump's foreign policy pronouncements.
To talk about these upcoming elections, we're joined now by NPR's Berlin correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. Hi, Soraya.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Hi there.
CHANG: So Merkel may be widely expected to win again, but she hasn't exactly had a smooth path to a fourth term. What are some of the problems she's faced?
NELSON: Well, the first one is actually quite unusual in German campaigning, and that's that she has protesters from the right wing heckling her and shouting her down at every one of her rallies. That's just not done here. And the other thing is that she's never quite overcome the public backlash about her decision in 2015 to open German borders to nearly a million asylum seekers and other migrants. Her center-right CDU party isn't seeing the kind of approval ratings as they did in earlier campaigns.
Stefan Kornelius is the foreign editor of Germany's daily Suddeutsche Zeitung and has written a book about Merkel.
STEFAN KORNELIUS: Suddenly and surprisingly Merkel has become a very polarizing figure. As much as she pushed to the center on the refugee issue and brought in the left part of electoral voters in her camp, as much she did lose on the right side.
NELSON: But Kornelius says even so, Merkel being attacked by the right-wing populists could actually gain her sympathy votes on Sunday.
CHANG: It sounds like it's unlikely that Merkel's party will get enough seats for her to govern on her own, so she'll have to form a coalition, right? Any idea who with?
NELSON: There's a number of parties she could partner with. But what's more interesting is what Merkel has said about who she won't work with. And one is the Left Party, which is the successor of sorts to the East German Communists. And then the other one is the right-wing populists' Alternative for Germany. And it's widely expected that that, the latter party, will be the third-largest vote getter on Sunday, which could be actually the most crucial thing about this election because it will be the first time since the end of World War II that a party many dismiss as xenophobic would be in Parliament. And it could have an effect on how Germany is governed over the next four years.
CHANG: How has Merkel managed to have such a long career in politics so far in Germany?
NELSON: Well, the main thing is that Germany has really boomed economically under her leadership despite the fact that there was a financial and euro crisis some years back. Germans are really attracted to that stability. Germans also really love the fact that she's down-to-earth. She lives modestly in Berlin, and she actually does her grocery shopping herself.
NELSON: I have friends who say that she's a regular at their local supermarket where you can see her returning her own plastic bottles and filling her grocery cart.
CHANG: Oh, imagine that. So you know, there's clearly been tension between Merkel and President Trump. How do you think Germany's relationship with the U.S. might continue if Merkel ends up serving yet another term?
NELSON: Well, I think we can pretty much count on her speaking out against President Trump even more than she's doing now when he makes pronouncements that worry Germany and the rest of Europe. But Merkel has also made it clear that she's not interested in shutting the door entirely on the Trump administration.
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CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German).
NELSON: During her recent debate, she said that there are issues Germany and the U.S. have to work on together like ISIS and Afghanistan, and she said she's going to continue talking to Trump about their differences and will do her best to find resolution and common ground. And it's also important to note that one thing President Trump likes about her is the fact that she plans to increase Germany's defense budget.
CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. Thanks, Soraya.
NELSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.