Merkel takes responsibility for election disaster

10th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel took partial blame Monday for a weekend election rout amid voter rage over a colossal bail-out for Greece, and pledged to show more "decisive" leadership.

Lamenting a "bitter defeat" for the centre-right Sunday in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Merkel said a first step would be to rule out tax cuts "at least" in the next two years.

Her coalition allies since the national election in September, the pro-business Free Democrats, had pressed Merkel to slash taxes but Germans are sceptical in light of Germany's parlous public finances.

North Rhine-Westphalia, with its 13.5 million voters, was ruled by the same coalition Merkel has in Berlin, making the poll a damaging referendum on her government in its first electoral test since she was re-elected in September.

The poll drubbing robs Merkel's coalition of its dominance both in the state legislature and the Bundesrat upper house of parliament at a moment in which the 16-nation eurozone, and Germany as its top economy, face a historic crisis.

A visibly chastened Merkel acknowledged that infighting on issues including tax policy at the start of the seven-month-old government had hurt the NRW re-election drive.

"In the first months (of the new coalition) we did not provide any momentum to the government in NRW," she said.

"On the contrary, we were a factor holding them back, and there were many avoidable disagreements."

She said the atmosphere in Berlin had improved of late and pledged to run her government with a firmer hand. "With great decisiveness," she added.

The timing of the election could hardly have been worse for Merkel's centre-right alliance, which has ruled NRW since 2005.

Germans strongly oppose the 22.4 billion euros (29.2 billion dollars) in loans over three years to debt-wracked Athens which was approved Friday as part of an EU-IMF rescue, as Berlin struggles with its own parlous public finances.

And Sunday, the European Union announced an emergency trillion-dollar rescue package for crisis-hit eurozone countries to which Germany will also make a major contribution.

Merkel appeared before the press earlier Monday to insist that the costly efforts to shore up the euro were also in the interest of German taxpayers.

"We are protecting the money of people in Germany," she said. "This package serves to strengthen and protect the common currency."

The centre-left daily Tagesspiegel accused Merkel of dithering in the run-up to the state election as the eurozone struggled to regain stability amid the Greek debt turmoil, and had paid the price at the polls.

"Never before has a federal government's fear of a state election had such a disastrous impact on the EU and the stability of the euro.

"Merkel played tactical games for weeks before having to make promises after all, and what is the end result? Black-yellow bankruptcy in North Rhine-Westphalia and a crisis for Europe," it said, referring to the colours of the centre-right coalition.

Merkel's Christian Democrats drew just 34.6 percent -- their worst result ever in NRW -- with allies the Free Democrats at 6.7 percent, depriving them of their majority in the state legislature.

The opposition centre-left Social Democrats scored 34.5 percent, failing to profit from the conservatives' misery, with the ecologist Greens at a strong 12.1 percent and the far-left Die Linke on 5.6 percent.

With no clear winner, the results mean that the two strongest parties will scramble to cobble together a ruling alliance, or perhaps link up to form a "grand coalition".

Top-selling daily Bild said the state election marked a "political landslide" in which voters gave Merkel's government a "lesson they will not forget during this term" running to 2013.

© 2010 AFP

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