State vote, coali­tion poker spell tough week for Merkel

The Nation - - WORLD -

GER­MAN CHAN­CEL­LOR An­gela Merkel, freshly re-elected but with no clear ma­jor­ity, is hop­ing for a re­gional poll vic­tory on Sun­day for her con­ser­va­tives be­fore she starts per­ilous coali­tion talks next week.

After 12 years at the helm of the EU’s top econ­omy, the vet­eran leader faces one of her tough­est chal­lenges yet, a po­lit­i­cal poker game with two very dif­fer­ent play­ers that could drag on well into 2018.

The goal is to form Ger­many’s first coali­tion gov­ern­ment group­ing Merkel’s restive con­ser­va­tive camp, the lib­eral and pro-busi­ness Free Democrats (FDP) and the left-lean­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Greens.

If they fail to reach an agree­ment – a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity, given their stark pol­icy dif­fer­ences – Merkel would have to call fresh elec­tions, months after she won the Septem­ber 24 polls with her party’s low­est score in decades.

But be­fore Merkel launches into those night­mare ne­go­ti­a­tions next Wed­nes­day, she once more hits the cam­paign trail to sup­port her Chris­tian Democrats (CDU) in the west­ern state of Lower Sax­ony.

“The goal is a strong CDU,” de­clared Merkel ahead of a string of stump speeches in Ger­many’s fourth most pop­u­lous state, which is home to auto giant Volk­swa­gen.

Her party is run­ning neck-and­neck there with the gov­ern­ing So­cial Democrats (SPD) – who are badly in need of a win after a heavy de­feat at the na­tional level that sent its leader Mar­tin Schulz into op­po­si­tion.

“A vic­tory in Lower Sax­ony is im­por­tant for Merkel be­cause it would strengthen her and show that her party can still win state elec­tions,” said Oskar Nie­der­mayer of Ber­lin’s Free Univer­sity. Po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Michael Broen­ing said a state-level win would “throw a life­line” to party chairman Schulz, the for­mer pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment.

It would also “re­as­sure a strug­gling party that there is a light at the end of the tun­nel and that the fu­ture holds more than just a role in the op­po­si­tion,” said Broen­ing, of the SPD- linked Friedrich Ebert Foun­da­tion.

Days be­fore the Lower Sax­ony elec­tion, the out­come was un­pre­dictable after the CDU un­der chal­lenger Bernd Althus­mann lost an early lead to poll around even with the SPD, at 32 to 34 per cent each.

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