Merkel’s challenger packs shadow cabinet with women

31st July 2009, Comments 0 comments

Steinmeier is struggling in his bid to unseat Merkel, who aims to ditch the Social Democrats, junior partners in her awkward "grand coalition" government, in favour of the pro-business Free Democrats.

Potsdam -- The Social Democratic challenger to German Chancellor Angela Merkel unveiled a shadow cabinet packed with women and younger faces Thursday, aiming to breathe new life into a faltering campaign.

Less than two months ahead of the election, Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier said his "strong team" of 10 women and eight men would help take the wind out of Merkel's sails.

"We're not playing for position, we're playing to win," he told reporters at a lakeside hotel in Potsdam outside Berlin.

Steinmeier, 53, is struggling in his bid to unseat Merkel, who aims to ditch the Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in her awkward "grand coalition" government, in favour of the pro-business Free Democrats.

The SPD is trailing Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats by around 15 points in opinion polls ahead of the September 27 election, as Germans praise the chancellor's handling of the country's worst postwar recession.

Although German voters cast ballots for the party and not the candidate, Steinmeier's low personal popularity ratings are not helping his campaign with a daunting 37-point gap between himself and Merkel in some surveys.

The current left-right cabinet features nine men and six women in addition to the 55-year-old Merkel, Germany's first female chancellor, at the top.

Steinmeier announced on Wednesday that he would leave current Health Minister Ulla Schmidt out of his shadow cabinet due to public uproar over her use of an official Mercedes during her summer holidays in Spain.

In addition to current ministers, Steinmeier's team includes a 35-year-old state social affairs minister from East Germany, Manuela Schwesig; leftist firebrand Andrea Nahles for education and integration; and, for the first time, a cabinet member dedicated to the concerns of the disabled, Karin Evers-Meyer.

And for defence, Steinmeier tapped military affairs expert Ulrike Merten.

"I want to make major progress toward gender equality as chancellor," Steinmeier said, adding that choosing a woman for the defence ministry underscored that goal.

SPD leader Franz Muentefering said the party would spotlight areas where it had clear differences with the conservatives, including its support for phasing out nuclear power, introducing a minimum wage and maintaining social welfare programmes.

AFP/Expatica

 

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