Under-pressure Merkel eyes east German vote

20th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives watched an election closely Sunday in the impoverished east for signs of voter discontent over nuclear policy after the Japan disaster.

Polls in Saxony-Anhalt state indicate that Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) were set to be returned to power in a "grand coalition" with their sworn enemies at national level, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).

Local issues dominate but the CDU was bracing for a fall in its share of the vote over nuclear power and the embarrassing resignation of Merkel's most popular minister on March 1 after accusations he cheated on his doctorate.

According to a national poll published Friday, the Greens have gained five points and the anti-nuclear party looks set to win enough support in the wake of the disaster in Japan to take seats in the state parliament.

"We want to influence the policies of this country ... The Greens can get things done," their candidate Claudia Albert said.

Germany decided a decade ago to go nuclear-free by around 2020 but Merkel last year postponed the switch-off until the mid-2030s despite strong public unease.

But Japan's nuclear emergency prompted Merkel last week to announce a three-month moratorium on the postponement and the temporary shutdown of Germany's seven oldest reactors pending a safety review.

This has not gone down well with voters, however, with Friday's survey showing nearly nearly seven in voters thought her moves were "pure electioneering."

A YouGov poll the day before showed that 81 percent of voters thought her actions over nuclear power were "not credible."

"Merkel: no one believes her any more" ran the front-page headline in the Berliner Kurier tabloid.

The election in Saxony-Anhalt, home to 2.3 million people, is the second of seven state elections in Germany this year.

The CDU already suffered a humiliating defeat last month in the city state Hamburg, turfed out of city hall after a decade in power.

A poor result in Saxony-Anhalt would also bode badly for the year's most important election in the wealthy southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg next Sunday.

The CDU has been in power in Baden-Wuerttemberg since 1953 -- the year before Merkel was born -- and defeat in such a CDU bastion there would deal Merkel's standing a heavy blow.

The main winners in the state, home to four nuclear reactors, could be the Greens.

Polls suggest they are set to double their vote, raising the possibility that one of Germany's 16 states might have something no other state has ever had: a Green premier.

Last May an election defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia lost Merkel's national coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) its majority in the federal upper house, making passing legislation more difficult,

Political analyst Gero Neugebauer said that the far-right NPD party was also likely to breach the five-percent hurdle required for election to parliament in Saxony-Anhalt, given the low turn-out historically in the state.

"People often vote NPD as a protest," he said, adding: "It is certain that the neo-Nazi party will get into parliament."

© 2011 AFP

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