A poster urges German Chancellor Angela Merkel to listen the concerns of the people during a Dresden rally against the government on Jan. 12, 2015. (Jens Meyer/AP)

In this occasional series, the London bureau of The Washington Post brings you up to speed on some of the biggest stories of the week. First up: Merkel may win Sunday's election, but the bigger story might be a different one. 

The biggest story: The far right is set for a watershed moment in Germany

For the first time since the defeat of the Nazis in 1945, a far-right party will soon have delegates in the German Parliament. Pollsters say the party should get more than enough votes in parliamentary elections this month to pass the 5 percent threshold required to send representatives to the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian explains the implications.

How did the far right get there?

Founded in 2013, the Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, rode a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment to become the third-highest-polling party in the country.

In a campaign that has made refugees the subject of heated debate — much of it acidly negative — the about 1.4 million asylum seekers who have come to Germany since its last election four years ago are rarely heard from, however, as Griff Witte and Luisa Beck write.

A poster of Angela Merkel. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)

Is Merkel to be blamed?

Merkel has frequently and skillfully co-opted rivals' stances, making it harder for others to criticize her along clear ideological lines. The continuation of a Merkel-led status quo “could lead to growing support for left- and right-wing parties in Germany,” said Sebastian Feyock, an analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.

Read Ishaan Tharoor's analysis on why Merkel's reelection may not be good for Germany.

Martin Schulz. (Gregor Fischer/AFP/Getty Images)

What distinguishes Merkel and Schulz?

The two top contenders for the chancellor's office — Merkel and social democratic candidate Martin Schulz — come from vastly different backgrounds. Merkel was shaped by striking family history in the formerly communist east, as Isaac Stanley-Becker and Luisa Beck write.

Meanwhile, Schulz’s background as a school dropout from a working-class family, who has openly discussed his battle with alcoholism, makes him unusual in the relatively elite and highly educated world of German politics, according to Griff Witte.

Four other important stories

1. The Islamic State is on the run in Iraq, but some major battles remain.

Iraqi security forces have freed most of northern Iraq from the grip of the Islamic State. But U.S. and Iraqi officials warn that thousands of militants remain in the country, according to Tamer El-Ghobashy and Mustafa Salim in Irbil, Iraq, and Joby Warrick in Washington.

A victory over the Islamic State would also free slaves believed to be held by the group.

2. There are an estimated 40 million slaves in the world.

A report released this week estimates that 40.3 million people were trapped in slavery around the world on any given day last year. Slavery tends to be a hidden practice — one in which the victim's ability to speak out is limited, writes Adam Taylor. 

The vast majority of slaves are believed to live in Asia, where mounting international pressure has brought some other controversial practices to an end.

3. China used to harvest organs from prisoners. Under pressure, that practice is finally ending.

China’s organ-transplant system was once a subject of international scorn and outrage, as doctors harvested organs from prisoners condemned to death by courts and transplanted them into patients, who often paid dearly for the privilege. After years of denials, China now acknowledges that history and has declared that the practice no longer occurs.

Read the full story by Simon Denyer. 

4. Should South Korean women be drafted? 


South Korean and U.S. troops in the demilitarized zone. (SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg News)

In South Korea, a recent anonymous petition requesting that President Moon Jae-in’s ­administration expand the draft to women has gone viral, sparking debate over whether requiring women to serve would make the country more prepared — and more equal. Military service is required for most men ages 18 to 35.

Read the full dispatch from Seoul by Michelle Ye Hee Lee.

5. The British gave up their last colonies in Africa about 50 years ago. But they left their wigs behind.

Conscription in Britain ended more than half a century ago at a time when the nation had also just decided to give up its last colonies in Africa. There, the most visible signs of British colonial rule still in place today are wigs, worn by judges and lawyers in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Malawi and elsewhere.


Zimbabwean judges in long red robes and horsehair wigs. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

They are so old-fashioned and so uncomfortable that even British barristers have stopped wearing them, and they are perhaps the most glaring symbol of colonial inheritance at a time when that history is being dredged up in all sorts of ways, writes Kevin Sieff. 

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