September 23, 2013

Merkel triumphs in German vote

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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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

"We did not achieve the result we wanted," Steinbrueck told supporters. He said that he wouldn't engage in "speculation" about the next government.

It wasn't clear whether a new party that calls for an "orderly breakup" of the eurozone, Alternative for Germany, would win seats in parliament's lower house. The exit polls showed them polling up to 4.9 percent — just shy of enough for seats. Merkel and others have said they won't deal with the party.

Merkel wouldn't comment on whether she would govern with a thin one-party majority. True to her methodical style, she said she would wait for the final result and then proceed "step by step."

However, Steinbrueck and the Greens' Juergen Trittin said they wouldn't advise their parties to join a coalition with Merkel if she didn't need them to govern. Whatever the outcome, Merkel will have to deal with her center-left rivals to get legislation through parliament's upper house, which represents Germany's 16 state governments and which her rivals control.

The exit polls were greeted by shocked silence at the Free Democrats' election event. Four years ago, the party won nearly 15 percent of the vote, its best-ever result — but the party has taken much of the blame for squabbling in Merkel's governing coalition since then.

"It's the bitterest, saddest hour of the Free Democratic Party," the party's leader, Vice Chancellor Philipp Roesler, said.

Gabriel, the political scientist, said conservative voters who voted for the Free Democrats in 2009 "returned in droves" to Merkel. The smaller party "isn't considered competent by the voters anymore," he said.

Merkel's party ran a feel-good campaign that centered squarely on Merkel's personal popularity and, opponents complained, largely avoided controversial issues. Recent polls gave her popularity ratings of up to 70 percent, but the sky-high ratings didn't extend to her coalition.

Merkel has called her second-term coalition "the most successful government since reunification" 23 years ago. She pointed to the robust economy and unemployment which, at 6.8 percent, is very low for Germany and far below that of many other European countries.

The new Alternative for Germany's leader, Bernd Lucke, said it had "taught the other parties to be scared," whether or not it enters parliament. The party appealed to protest voters on the right; Lucke said it had "strengthened democracy in Germany."

Merkel has pursued a hard-nosed course in the euro crisis — insisting on spending cuts and economic reforms in exchange for bailout struggling countries such as Greece. The bailouts haven't been popular, but Germany has largely escaped the economic fallout from the crisis, and Merkel has won credit for that.

Europe played only a very limited role in the election campaign, which was dominated by domestic issues such as center-left calls for tax increases on high earners and a national minimum wage, which Merkel rejected.

___ Associated Press correspondents Frank Jordans and Kirsten Grieshaber contributed to this report.

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