Merkel takes final vote swing to right's heartland

20th September 2013, Comments 0 comments

Two days ahead of general elections, Chancellor Angela Merkel rallied supporters Friday in Germany's conservative heartland Bavaria on the eve of its world-famous Oktoberfest beer festival.

On Odeonsplatz, an elegant central square in wealthy Munich's city centre, Merkel delivered her upbeat stump speech to a crowd of about 7,000 ahead of Sunday's vote.

"It is worth it to fight down to the wire," she told cheering voters under overcast skies, a day before revellers descend on the world's biggest beer party in the Bavarian capital, now in its 180th edition.

"I am here today because I would like to remain your chancellor for another four years," she added as polls indicated the race was narrowing.

Two new surveys Friday placed Merkel's coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) in a dead heat at 45 to 45 percent with the combined leftist opposition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and far-left Linke.

Because her chief opponent, Peer Steinbrueck of the SPD, has ruled out a coalition with the Linke, Merkel looks set to win a third term.

But it is shaping up as a photo finish, with either a reloaded centre-right government or a "grand coalition" with the SPD, which Merkel led during her first administration.

Merkel went to Munich on the penultimate day of campaigning, and following a Bavarian state election Sunday in which her Christian Democrats' sister party, the Christian Social Union, romped to victory with 48 percent of the vote.

The German leader, often called the world's most powerful woman, told supporters that Europe's top economy had emerged stronger from the eurozone crisis than before under her leadership.

"When I became chancellor... there were more than five million unemployed and now there are fewer than three million," she said. "But we need to keep working."

Addressing a key line of attack of her centre-left rivals, Merkel noted she was spearheading a campaign to assure minimum wages in individual sectors, at a level hammered out between employers and unions.

Steinbrueck has charged that the government has allowed the gap between rich and poor to grow on its watch and calls for a nationwide minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($11.50) per hour.

"Many people can say that you're doing better than in 2009," she said. "I want you to be able to say in 2017 that you're doing better than now."

George Ohanian, a 62-year-old technician in the crowd, said Merkel had his vote because of her deft response to the eurozone crisis.

"She is doing a very good job," he said. "We're doing well, here in Bavaria and in Germany."

A retired shopkeeper, 71-year-old Heidmarie Wolf, said Merkel had won her trust during her eight years in power.

"Of course you can criticise and complain about a lot of things but until now, there's been nobody who's done it better than her," she said.

Wolf said the idea of Merkel ditching the FDP and linking up with the left again had its charms.

"A grand coalition would be great -- then maybe everyone's concerns would be taken into account," she said, adding that she was pleased with the work of Merkel's 2005-2009 grand coalition, in which Steinbrueck served as finance minister.

© 2013 AFP

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