Merkel on course for 4 more years

2013-09-20 20:06
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Picture: AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Picture: AFP)

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Berlin - The German campaign has entered its final days with Chancellor Angela Merkel on course to secure a third term as leader of Europe's biggest economy.

Merkel's conservative political camp is expected to remain the biggest bloc in parliament after the Sunday election.

Support for the CDU and its Bavarian-based associate party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has held steady at 40%, Mannheim-based pollsters Forschungsgruppe said in a survey for ZDF public television.

It is the shape of the coalition she is likely to lead that remains an open question, with concerns that her current coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), might not win enough support on Sunday to be returned to parliament.

Pilloried in those nations at the centre of the eurozone debt crisis, 59-year-old Merkel goes into Sunday's election with most Germans (58%) convinced she would be a better chancellor than her main opponent, Social Democrat Peer Steinbrueck (32%).

This follows a strong pickup in the German economy, a solid set of budget figures and rising wages, as well as a steady fall in unemployment, bolstering her bid for four more years in office.

"The economy has given her a very comfortable bed to lie in," said Irwin Collier from the John F Kennedy Institute in Berlin.

Economy

The state of the economy, key to any election campaign, has shored up her credentials as a safe pair of hands who keeps a careful watch on Germany's finances and foiled opposition bids to undermine Merkel.

Steinbrueck's Social Democratic Party (SPD) will garner 27% of votes, ZDF forecast. Other pollster rate the SPD at between 25% and 28% of the vote.

It is a credit to Merkel's political style that it is often hard to find any voter with a bad word to say about her.

"I think that [Merkel] had done quite a few things right in the last eight years," said Theresa Mueller, a 21-year-old student from Berlin.

Merkel might not be her first choice, but Mueller said: "I could imagine that in the next few years things would continue to run [smoothly] because she is accustomed to the job."

The chancellor scored points with voters with what they perceive to be her deft handling of the eurozone's long-running debt crisis.

"The euro debt crisis has been positive for Merkel," said Manfred Guellner, who heads up the Forsa pollsters group.

On track

Unlike her political opponents, Merkel's campaign has also not been thrown off course by any unexpected events.

While the Green party has been hit by revelations about a decades-old party policy - long ago retracted - containing calls to decriminalise some forms of paedophilia, Steinbrueck has faced criticism over a magazine photo showing him giving a vulgar gesture with his middle finger.

A last-minute risk of nationwide anguish was averted when the US pulled back from a threat of military action against Syria.

A war could have shifted support to Merkel's opponents on the left.

"She has had luck [with Syria], with a multi-national solution having been found," said Free University political scientist Gregor Walter-Drop.

But Merkel's real battle might be in attempting to hammer together a government after the election, with her coalition options having narrowed to two - either a continuation of her present alliance with the FDP or teaming up with the SPD to form a grand coalition, similar to the one she headed between 2005 and 2009.

"It would not be a surprise if the German voters presented Merkel with several nasty alternatives," said Heribert Dieter, an economist with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

Opinion polls

The FDP crashed out of the Bavarian state assembly last weekend after its share of the vote dropped below the 5% mark, which parties need to gain parliamentary representation.

Opinion polls show support for the FDP hovering around the 5% mark ahead of Sunday's national poll.

This raises the possibility that the CDU/CSU and FDP will achieve the slimmest of majorities in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, or fall just short of it.

A wafer-thin majority could leave a CDU-FDP coalition under constant threat from rebels within its own ranks abandoning the government during crucial votes, analysts say.

Another unknown is the size of support that the euro-sceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) might gain.

If the AfD were to be successful in securing seats in the Bundestag - only one pollster believes it will come close to that - it would be the first time that an anti-Europe party has gained parliamentary representation in Germany.

This would send shock waves through the nation's political establishment and add to the momentum for Merkel to focus on national unity be teaming up with the opposition Social Democrats.

Read more on:    angela merkel  |  germany

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