Merkel and Steinbrueck make final cases ahead of election
Chancellor’s party seen fending off challenge from SDP but coalition partner in trouble
German chancellor Angela Merkel waves to supporters after speaking at a CDU election rally today. Voters in Germany go to the polls in federal elections tomorrow. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images.
Peer Steinbrueck, opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) candidate for German chancellor, exits an election rally in Berlin. Photograph: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg.
Angela Merkel is in a fight to clinch a new term for her ruling coalition, according to polls released ahead of tomorrow’s German election.
The figures show her centre-right alliance on a knife-edge as support for her junior partner has slumped.
Dr Merkel and her conservative Christian Democratic Union appear likely to fend off a challenge from centre-left rival Peer Steinbrueck and emerge as the biggest party in the lower house of parliament, whose members choose the chancellor - making her the strong favorite to win a third term.
But no single party has won an absolute majority in Germany in more than 50 years and surveys show Dr Merkel’s coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party, has fallen from the nearly 15 per cent support it won in 2009 to about the 5 per cent level needed to keep any seats in parliament.
“We want a strong Europe, a successful Europe” and “in the next four years we have to work so that this wonderful continent continues to be successful,” Dr Merkel told her penultimate rally in Berlin today.
Dr Merkel winds up her campaign in her Baltic Sea constituency of Stralsund later today; Mr Steinbrueck was due to address supporters in Frankfurt, the financial capital.
Yesterday, he attacked Dr Merkel for lacking vision. “There is no direction, no sounding, no compass for where the country should go in the next four years,” Mr Steinbrueck told a crowd in the town square in Kassel, in the state of Hesse.
If Dr Merkel’s alliance falls short of a parliamentary majority, the likeliest outcome is a switch to a Merkel-led “grand coalition” of her conservatives with Mr Steinbrueck’s Social Democratic Party, the same combination of traditional rivals that ran Germany from 2005 to 2009 in Dr Merkel’s first term.
That is unlikely to produce a radical change in government policies. However, it could signal a subtle shift in emphasising economic growth over the austerity that Germany has insisted on in exchange for bailing out economically weak European countries such as Greece.
Final results are due within hours of polls closing. But with margins so close, the country could still face weeks of protracted horse-trading before a clear picture emerges about the make-up and policies of Germany’s next government.
Dr Merkel’s center-right coalition might win re-election but “it will be very tight,” said Oskar Niedermayer, a political science professor at Berlin’s Free University. Much may depend on the turnout among the nearly 62 million voters — about 70 per cent in the 2009 ballot.
In the days before the voting, prominent figures from all major parties have urged supporters to vote, with the projected outcome too close to take any chances.