Merkel wins, starts coalition building
Reuters and AFPBERLIN -- Germany's Angela Merkel began trying to persuade her center-left rivals to keep her in power on Monday after her conservatives notched up their best election result in more than two decades but fell short of an absolute majority.
September 24, 2013, 12:17 am TWN
Even the chancellor's political foes acknowledged she was the big winner of the first German vote since the euro crisis began in 2010, which thrust the pastor's daughter from the former East Germany into the role of Europe's dominant leader.
But despite leading her conservatives to their best result since 1990, with 41.5 percent of votes putting them five seats short of the first absolute majority in parliament in over half a century, 59-year-old Merkel had little time to celebrate.
“We are, of course, open for talks and I have already had initial contact with the SPD (Social Democratic Party) chairman, who said the SPD must first hold a meeting of its leaders on Friday,” Merkel told a news conference, adding that she did not rule out talks with other potential coalition partners.
Her SPD arch-rivals were plainly preparing to play hardball in any talks on repeating the 'grand coalition' led by Merkel from 2005 to 2009, which worked well for Merkel in her first term but cost the SPD millions of leftist votes.
The SPD finished second with 25.7 percent, little improved on their worst post-war result of 2009.
“It will be an extremely long road,” said Ralf Stegner, head of the left wing of the SPD which has major reservations about becoming junior partners again to Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and her Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) allies.
The 150-year-old SPD may have finished a poor second with their second-worst post-war result, but they know Merkel has to come knocking after her current center-right coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), failed to get back into parliament.
One SPD leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, half-joked that it would have been better if Merkel had got her own slim majority: “That would have been the worst punishment for her — to bear responsibility for everything on her own.”
Tough Bargaining Ahead
But in German politics, where only one post-war chancellor has won an absolute majority — conservative patriarch Konrad Adenauer, in 1957 — complex coalition-building is par for the course and few politicians build consensus better than Merkel.
Her calm leadership through the euro crisis has reinforced her status as “Mutti” (mother) of the nation, but she counted on the SPD and Greens' support on all of the euro zone bailout votes.
Polls show a majority of German voters would like another “grand coalition,” as do many of Germany's partners in the euro currency area, who expect the SPD to soften Merkel's austerity-focused approach to struggling euro zone states like Greece.
The euro inched up and German government bond futures rose early on Monday as investors anticipated continuity in Berlin's cautious approach to the crisis. But continuity may come at a high price for Merkel, in terms of cabinet posts and policies.
In the campaign, the SPD argued for a legal minimum wage and higher taxes on the rich. It may demand the finance ministry, pushing out respected 71-year-old incumbent Wolfgang Schaeuble, or insist on key posts like the foreign or labour ministries.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, chairwoman of the Christian Democratic party CDU, waves to her supporters at the party headquarters in Berlin on Sunday, Sept. 22. (AP)