Bagpipes sound for Merkel's 'Mac' in state poll

17th January 2013, Comments 0 comments

He can blow a note or two on the bagpipes and owns a tartan kilt but half-Scot David McAllister is also a high-profile German politician and Chancellor Angela Merkel's best hope in a key state poll Sunday.

And the 42-year-old rising star may just go on to succeed her one day at the helm of Europe's top economy.

The man with a name tricky for most Germans to pronounce is the telegenic son of a British military officer based in Berlin and a German schoolteacher. He has led Lower Saxony, a state of more than six million voters, since 2010.

In his bid for a second term, he is coupling his own broad popularity with the firm backing of his fellow Christian Democrat (CDU) Merkel, who is sailing on her own record level of support to a September general election.

"I'm proud to be Merkel's Mac," he shouts to supporters on the campaign trail, where he has come from behind with his pro-business coalition partners to pull neck-and-neck with a rival alliance of Social Democrats and Greens.

The chancellor, 58, has also joined him repeatedly at rallies, basking in standing ovations while he gets the cheers.

McAllister opts to live away from the capital near the North Sea and loves a brisk walk on the beach. But in the public arena he is known for his friendly smile, quick wit and demonstrative down-to-earth style.

He proudly wore a kilt to marry his German wife Dunja, with whom he has two young daughters, Jamie and Mia, and even touts Scottish thrift as part of his drive for fiscal discipline in the statehouse.

And his campaign song includes a Scottish bagpipe-tinged refrain, complete with the tongue-in-cheek battle cry: "Our chief is a Scot, and we're a strong clan!" Supporters sway to the tune, waving "I'm A Mac" posters.

McAllister took to politics early and joined the state parliament at 27, quickly drawing the attention of powerful supporters, including Merkel, for his sparkling rhetoric in the chamber and skilled sparring with the opposition.

He became Lower Saxony's premier when Merkel called his predecessor and mentor Christian Wulff to Berlin to become president.

Wulff was forced to resign last year amid accusations of influence-peddling and his successor quickly distanced himself from the president as soon as the scandal broke.

Pundits have warned Merkel that with no obvious successor waiting in the wings, she would be wise to cultivate younger, centrist talent in the party.

"(Former CDU chancellor) Helmut Kohl was once so comfortable in his position that he forgot to pass the torch," news weekly Der Spiegel wrote recently, referring to Merkel's now famous coup against the veteran party leader in 1999, one year after he had left office.

"Merkel would be better off grooming her own successor before she ends up in the same position."

The chancellor looks as if she may be starting to take the advice to heart. If McAllister loses on Sunday, he could find himself at her cabinet table or in the pivotal job of CDU general secretary.

But if he wins, the road to Berlin may have to wait until Merkel moves on.

"Merkel is not at all ready to step down," said politics professor Oskar Niedermayer of Berlin's Free University.

"He has always been treated as a crown prince and he's the only one left. I think he has a future in national politics but the future could take some time."

Gerhard Schroeder used Lower Saxony as a launching pad for a national political career, governing Germany from 1998 until he lost to Merkel in 2005.

However McAllister, keenly aware that Berlin ambitions can be poison at the state ballot box, has kept his cards very close to his vest.

"My place is in Lower Saxony," he said. "Berlin is not the question."

Political scientist Stephan Klecha of the University of Goettingen said that approach appealed to voters.

"He really cares about his connection to his home," Klecha said.

© 2013 AFP

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