Triumphant Merkel reaches out to leftist rivals

September 23, 2013 5:01 pm


Merkel celebrates at her Christian Democrats party headquarters in Berlin, September 22, 2013/AFP
Merkel celebrates at her Christian Democrats party headquarters in Berlin, September 22, 2013/AFP
BERLIN, Sep 23 – German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday reached out to her centre-left rivals on potentially forming a coalition government after romping to victory in elections that banished her preferred allies.

Voters cemented Merkel in the title ‘the world’s most powerful woman’, handing her conservatives close to an absolute majority after a campaign focused on her image as a safe pair of hands through Europe’s financial turmoil.

With 41.5 percent, Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) notched up their best score since Germany’s joyous reunification in 1990, prompting congratulatory messages from European leaders and sending the euro higher against the dollar in Asian trade.

But after her Free Democratic Party (FDP) junior allies flunked out of parliament, Merkel faces a lengthy period of horse-trading with one of two leftist parties to partner up on steering Europe’s top economy for another four years.

“We are open for discussions,” she said, after accepting a standing ovation from cheering supporters waving German flags at CDU party headquarters in Berlin.

“I had a first contact with the SPD (Social Democrats) chairman who understandably asked that the SPD first hold its party meeting on Friday,” she told reporters.

Merkel, who already governed in a left-right “grand coalition” with the SPD during her first 2005-2009 term, also left the door open to a possible tie-up with the ecologist Green party.

But analysts say neither centre-left party is keen to join a Merkel-led government, nor would they be easy bedfellows for the chancellor.

The Social Democrats, who scored less than 26 percent, are haunted by their experience in the last grand coalition when Merkel seemed to swipe credit for all the government’s achievements and the SPD was punished by voters with its worst-ever result.

“The SPD would perhaps be more comfortable in opposition and is therefore negotiating from a position of relative strength,” the European Council on Foreign Relations said in a statement.

“Merkel needs SPD support more than the SPD needs her.”

SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel was coy about possible advances from Merkel. “Mrs Merkel must say where she wants to go with Germany, what her goals are, what she is ready to agree,” he told reporters.

Her SPD election rival Peer Steinbrueck campaigned for more social justice, especially an across-the-board minimum wage compared to Merkel’s stance for more flexible wage agreements, regionally and by sector.

For the SPD, there is nothing automatic about a grand coalition, SPD general secretary Andrea Nahles said, adding there were “no pre-requisites or otherwise in the direction of a grand coalition”.

Media commentators agreed that the Social Democrats were Merkel’s most realistic powersharing option but would not make things easy.

Part 1 | Part 2

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