State vote, coalition poker spell tough week for Merkel
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.