Ready to win

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE In Seli­gen­stadt, Ger­many

Merkel starts cam­paign for an elec­tion in which she is seen as likely to stay at the helm.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel chose a pic­turesque small town to launch into full cam­paign mode for an elec­tion in which she is seen as likely to stay at the helm of Europe’s big­gest econ­omy.

Speak­ing in the old town square of Seli­gen­stadt, near Frank­furt, late on Wed­nes­day, Merkel, af­fec­tion­ately dubbed “Mutti”, or mum, made the case that her con­ser­va­tive govern­ment is the most suc­cess­ful since the re­uni­fi­ca­tion of Ger­many in 1990.

Un­de­terred by some heck­lers, she pointed at achieve­ments in health, ed­u­ca­tion and el­derly care as she kicked off a whirl­wind cam­paign tour in which she will speak at 56 events in 40 days.

Many in the en­thu­si­as­tic crowd of about 1,000 sup­port­ers waved signs say­ing “Angie”.

“Her speech was ex­tra­or­di­nary,” gushed one sup­porter, economics stu­dent Christoph Koser, 24. “She man­ages to en­gage us in her party be­cause in her pro­gram there is some­thing for ev­ery­one.”

Merkel, who is de­spised in parts of cri­sis-hit Europe for in­sist­ing on tough aus­ter­ity mea­sures, is pop­u­lar in Ger­many, where many see her as a re­spon­si­ble guardian of the pub­lic purse.

Push­ing her mes­sage of fis­cal dis­ci­pline, Merkel told the crowd: “We have seen in Europe what hap­pens when debts are too high. Growth on bor­rowed money that’s im­pos­si­ble.”

The launch ahead of the Sept 22 vote came as new data showed the Ger­man econ­omy grew 0.7 per­cent in the sec­ond quar­ter, help­ing pro­pel the eu­ro­zone out of its stub­born re­ces­sion.

To many ob­servers, the calm and prag­matic Merkel, 59, Forbes mag­a­zine’s most pow­er­ful woman in the world, seems an im­mov­able force, and few can imag­ine she will not stay in power.

“She has be­come some­thing like the mother of the na­tion, in quo­ta­tion marks,” said po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Oskar Nie­der­mayer of Ber­lin’s Free Univer­sity.

“A per­son like you and me who has not lost her head like many other politi­cians, who has the con­fi­dence of the peo­ple, seems nat­u­ral and has the im­age of the carer-in-chief.”

Nie­der­mayer said that in Ger­many, where the un­em­ploy­ment rate is 6.8 per­cent, the eu­ro­zone cri­sis seems like an ab­stract threat to many and “the cit­i­zens be­lieve she has steered Ger­many through the cri­sis”.

“She is also stay­ing out of in­tra- and in­ter­party bat­tles and quar­rels,” he added. “She has a rather pres­i­den­tial lead­er­ship style. She seems un­flap­pable and sober, and the peo­ple like that.”

Merkel’s per­sonal pop­u­lar­ity lead over her top chal­lenger, Peer Stein­brueck, of the So­cial Demo­cratic Party, has nar­rowed a few points but re­mains huge at 54-23 per­cent, said the lat­est Forsa In­sti­tute sur­vey.

“It will be an ex­tremely per­son­al­ized cam­paign, ... highly fo­cused on the chan­cel­lor,” said Martin Koop­mann of the Gen­sha­gen Foun­da­tion think tank.

RALPH OR­LOWSKI / REUTERS

Sup­port­ers of Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel hold up plac­ards dur­ing her in­au­gu­ral elec­tion cam­paign rally in Seli­gen­stadt near Frank­furt on Wed­nes­day.

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