Merkel romps to victory but faces tough coalition choices
By Stephen Brown and Noah Barkin, ReutersBERLIN - Angela Merkel won a landslide personal victory in Germany's general election on Sunday, but her conservatives appeared just short of the votes needed to rule on their own and may have to convince leftist rivals to join a coalition government.
September 23, 2013, 1:51 pm TWN
Partial results put support for Merkel's conservative bloc on 42 percent, their strongest score since 1990, the year of German unification, and a ringing endorsement of her steady leadership during the euro zone crisis.
The outcome left the center-right chancellor tantalisingly close to an absolute majority in the Bundestag lower house of parliament, a feat achieved only once in 1957 by Konrad Adenauer, the father of the West German federal republic.
"This is a super result," Merkel told cheering supporters. "Together, we will do all we can to make the next four years successful ones for Germany."
If she were to rule alone, which looks unlikely, she would have to do so with a tiny majority, leaving her vulnerable to rebel eurosceptics in her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU).
The alternative could be to revive a 'grand coalition' with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who came a distant second with 25.5 percent, their second worst result in the post-war era. Former finance minister Peer Steinbrueck's gaffe-prone campaign never gained traction against the popular Merkel.
Polls show that the consensus-driven German public would welcome a right-left partnership, as would Berlin's European partners, who hope the SPD might soften Merkel's austerity-focused approach to struggling euro zone members.
But after alienating millions of their own supporters when they partnered Merkel in her first term between 2005 and 2009, the Social Democrats are wary of a sequel.
"We won't automatically go into a grand coalition," said SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel. "What is important are the policies."
DOWN TO EARTH
There was bitter disappointment for Merkel's allies in the outgoing government, the market-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), who suffered a humiliating exit from the Bundestag, the first time they will be absent from the chamber in the post-war era.