Merkel wins new term to lead Germany out of trouble

27th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

Exit polls released as voting stations closed showed the 55-year-old Merkel's conservative Christian Union bloc (CDU/CSU) as the clear winners with about 33 percent of the vote.

Berlin -- Angela Merkel swept to a second mandate in Germany's election Sunday at the head of a new centre-right alliance she said would jumpstart Europe's ailing powerhouse economy, exit polls indicated.

Exit polls released as voting stations closed showed the 55-year-old Merkel's conservative Christian Union bloc (CDU/CSU) as the clear winners with about 33 percent of the vote.

Her favoured partners, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), captured around 15 percent, exit polls suggested, meaning they will likely return to government for the first time since 1998.

Under Germany's complex electoral arithmetic, their combined score of about 48 percent will likely be enough to put them over the top.

"A black-yellow coalition looks set, we have reached our goal," a jubilant Volker Kauder, general secretary of Merkel's party, told reporters, referring to the colours of the centre-right.

The majority will mean that Merkel, Germany's first female leader and the only chancellor from the ex-communist east, can serve another four-year term.

The Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in Merkel's loveless "grand coalition ," plummeted to between 22 and 23 percent -- their worst score since World War II -- and will be banished to the opposition after 11 years in government.

Preliminary results were to trickle in during the night, at the end of a campaign dominated by the country's deep economic troubles. The world's number-two exporter has been badly hit by the global crisis.

Heightened security after warnings from Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other Islamic militants over Germany's military mission in Afghanistan also cast a shadow over voting.

Merkel enjoyed a strong lead in the polls throughout what was widely criticised as an uninspiring and superficial campaign.

Although her SPD challenger Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, 53, narrowed the gap in recent weeks, it was not enough to prevent a debacle for the country's oldest political outfit and one of two "people's parties" that have governed the country in the post-war era.

Merkel, Forbes magazine's most powerful woman on the planet for four years running, had argued that Germany needed a new, centre-right government to end its steepest post-war economic downturn.

"We are fighting for the German jobs of the future," Merkel told a final rally in Berlin Saturday.

Awaiting Merkel's new-look coalition is a bulging in-tray of problems.

Unemployment is forecast to shoot higher, and health care, education and the bloated social security system are in dire need of reform. German public finances are in tatters and its population ageing fast.

Abroad, the main challenge is Afghanistan, where Germany has around 4,200 troops in the NATO force ensnared in the eighth year of an ever more deadly struggle with insurgents.

The mission, opposed by most voters, may become a major domestic headache for Merkel if violence worsens in the north of the war-ravaged country where Germany's soldiers are based.

With all of the main parties in the Bundestag lower house backing the deployment, with the exception of the far-left Die Linke, the Afghan mission failed to register as a decisive issue.

But the war may become a battleground in the next parliament, particularly if the SPD finds itself in opposition.

If there is not a sufficient effort to build up the Afghan army and police, "the US will have a second Vietnam, and Germany its first," the Berliner Zeitung daily said in an editorial last week.

Merkel moved her conservative party steadily to the centre in her first term in power and the next kingmaker will have a significant say in which tack the government takes.

The FDP is expected to pressure her to push through deep tax cuts to kickstart the economy, sign off on her plans to extend the life of the country's 17 nuclear reactors and likely resist efforts by Merkel, a former environment minister, to slash greenhouse gas emissions.


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