Merkel eyes second term as German election looms

22nd September 2009, Comments 0 comments

Barring a major election-day shock, polls show that 55-year-old Merkel, a pastor's daughter from the former communist East Germany and Forbes magazine's world's most powerful woman, is a shoo-in for re-election.

Berlin -- Chancellor Angela Merkel is virtually assured a second term in office after Germany goes to the polls on Sunday but she faces a nail-biting wait to see if she can form her preferred coalition.

Some 62 million Germans are eligible to vote on September 27 in an election that will decide who governs Europe's most populous nation and biggest economy for the next four years.

Barring a major election-day shock, polls show that 55-year-old Merkel, a pastor's daughter from the former communist East Germany and Forbes magazine's world's most powerful woman, is a shoo-in for re-election.

The question is whether her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) can win enough votes to forge the alliance they want with the pro-business Free Democrats.

If not, Germany is set for a second "grand coalition" between the CDU and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) -- an unwieldy alliance that some analysts say has stymied crucial economic reforms.

The latest polls put the CDU on 36 percent and the Free Democrats on 12 percent, just enough to scrape a razor-thin parliamentary majority.

The SPD is languishing near 26 percent, with their preferred coalition partner, the Greens, on 11 percent.

However, there are still plenty of undecided voters to target, with a recent poll by the Electoral Research Group showing that only 59 percent have decided whom to support.

"We have six days to fight for every vote," said the CDU's general secretary Ronald Pofalla in Berlin.

Tactical manoeuvring has already begun, with Free Democrats leader Guido Westerwelle excluding an alliance with the SPD, saying his party would only enter into a coalition with Merkel.

This sparked a sharp response from the SPD's candidate, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the country's 53-year-old vice-chancellor and foreign minister.

"Let's wait until Sunday at 6:01 pm and go from there," he told reporters Monday, referring to the minute after exit polls are to be released.

The election follows campaigns that have broadly failed to inspire voters.

The pair, who has governed together for the past four years, have shied away from personal attacks and struggled to set themselves apart from each other as they hold joint responsibility for the administration's record.

This was evident in their one and only live TV debate during which the polite and passionless sparring prompted one exasperated moderator to exclaim: "You two are like an old married couple."

Their manifesto pledges differ only slightly on the key issues, including Germany's involvement in Afghanistan and the financial crisis.

Only on nuclear energy -- where the CDU wants to go back on an earlier pledge to scrap the country's 17 nuclear power plants and the SPD wants to hold firm -- and on wage policy are there clearly defined distinctions.

"Mrs. Merkel knows that if she is not confrontational, she can rely on her popularity as chancellor. She has the highest popularity ratings of any chancellor in German history," Gerd Langguth, professor of political science at Bonn university and Merkel biographer, told AFP.

In the early weeks, the lacklustre campaign was brightened up by Horst Schlaemmer -- a "Borat"-style mock politician -- and a party pledging, not entirely seriously, to rebuild the Berlin Wall.

But, with output forecast to plunge by five or six percent this year, rising unemployment, and an uncertain future for a military mission in Afghanistan, the challenges facing Germany after the election are anything but a joke.

A more pleasant task for the new chancellor will be welcoming world leaders on November 9 to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall which paved the way to a reunited Germany.

One leader not attending is US President Barack Obama, who will be at a summit in Asia.

But this did not stop Obama "calling" the election back in July.

Walking to a joint press conference in Washington, Merkel told Obama she was preparing her election campaign.

Turning to Merkel with a grin, Obama was caught on camera as saying: "Oh, you've already won. I don't know why you're always worrying."


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