September 23, 2013

Merkel triumphs in German vote

The Associated Press

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives triumphed in Germany's election Sunday and appeared likely to end up close to an absolute majority. While Merkel was headed for a third term, her center-right coalition partners faced ejection from parliament for the first time in post-World War II history.

click image to enlarge

German Chancellor and chairwoman of the Christian Democratic party, CDU, Angela Merkel, smiles as she arrives for a news conference after a party's board meeting in Berlin, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. German Chancellor Angela Merkel may have won an impressive third general election but she faces a delicate and lengthy task in forming a new government as party leaders met Monday to map out their next steps. Merkel's Union bloc achieved its best result in 23 years Sunday to put her on course for a third term, winning 41.5 percent of the vote and finishing only five seats short of an absolute majority in the lower house. However, Merkel's pro-business coalition partner since 2009 crashed out of Parliament. Words read: For Germany. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

AP

 

Depending on which parties end up in parliament, Merkel could find herself leading a "grand coalition" government with the left-leaning Social Democrats or — less likely — with the environmentalist Greens. Either way, several weeks of difficult negotiations are expected. Each combination might bring a slightly softer tone to Europe's debt crisis, but probably without any significant policy shifts.

Merkel, Germany's chancellor since 2005 and the de facto leader of the response to Europe's debt crisis over the past three years, told supporters it was "a super result." She wouldn't immediately speculate about the shape of the next government, but the 59-year-old made clear she plans to serve a full term.

"I see the next four years in front of me and I can promise that we will face many tasks, at home, in Europe and in the world," Merkel said during a television appearance with other party leaders.

If her current coalition lacks a majority and the conservatives can't govern alone, the likeliest outcome is a Merkel-led alliance with the Social Democrats. The two are traditional rivals, but governed Germany together in Merkel's first term after an inconclusive 2005 election.

"The ball is in Merkel's court," her center-left challenger, Peer Steinbrueck, said. "She has to get herself a majority."

A "grand coalition" could result in a greater emphasis on bolstering economic growth over the austerity that Germany has insisted on in exchange for bailing out economically weak European countries such as Greece.

Merkel's conservatives, the Social Democrats and Greens "have largely similar positions" on Europe, said Oscar Gabriel, a political science professor at Stuttgart University. He noted, however, that "there are a few nuances," with the center-left parties more open to limited pooling of European countries' debt — something the chancellor has refused to countenance.

Merkel's conservative Union bloc won about 42 percent of the vote, an improvement of more than eight points over Germany's last election in 2009, according to ARD and ZDF television projections based on exit polls and partial counts. They showed the conservatives falling just short of an absolute majority — which is possible because parties need 5 percent support to claim seats in the lower house. Many small parties miss that threshold, meaning their votes don't count in the division of seats.

Her coalition partners of the past four years, the pro-business Free Democrats, were projected to win about 4.8 percent.

Nevertheless, the Union's strong showing was a personal victory for Merkel, solidifying her position as Europe's strongest political leader.

"We will do everything together in the next four years to make them successful years for Germany," Merkel said. Merkel was interrupted by cheers and chants of "Angie! Angie! Angie!" as she made a brief appearance at her party's headquarters.

Steinbrueck's Social Democrats trailed well behind Merkel's party with up to 26.5 percent, projections showed. Their Green allies polled 8 percent, while the hard-line Left Party scored 8.5 percent. Even if they end up with a combined majority, there's virtually no chance of them governing together.

The Left Party includes heirs of East Germany's former communist rulers, opposes German military deployments abroad and is the only party that voted against Merkel's policies of bailing out debt-troubled European countries in exchange for reforms. The two center-left parties on Sunday renewed promises not to form an alliance with the Left.

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