Merkel wins but coalition partner is on knife edge

Early figures show Merkel’s CDU topping poll with 42.5 per cent - up 9 points - but outgoing coalition partner just shy of the 5 per cent needed to re-enter Bundestag

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party members celebrate after first exit polls in the German general election. PHOTOGRAPH:  REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party members celebrate after first exit polls in the German general election. PHOTOGRAPH: REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

 

DEREK SCALLY in Berlin

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party has won today’s German federal election, but exit polls indicate she is in danger of losing her coalition partner after one of the most closely-watched German elections in decades.

Early figures indicate that Dr Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) topped the poll with 42.5 percent, up almost nine points. However various early projections show her outgoing Free Democratic Party (FDP) coalition partner just shy of the 5 per cent hurdle required to re-enter the Bundestag for the first time in its history.

She hailed her her victory in as an excellent result but said it was too early to discuss plans for the next government.

“This is a super result,” Dr Merkel told cheering supporters shortly after television exit polls were published. “We will do all we can in the next four years together to make them successful years for Germany. It is too early to say how we will proceed but today we should celebrate.”

Her centre-left rival Peer Steinbrueck, whose Social Democrats (SPD) came in second place on around 26 percent, said it was for Merkel to decide now what a future government will look like.

First projections at 6pm local time give the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) some 26 per cent of the poll -- up just three points on their disastrous 2009 result -- while their Green Party allies dropped almost three points to 8 per cent.

Also down was the Left Party, the third-strongest political grouping in the new Bundestag. Projection put them down around three points to 8.5 per cent.

The biggest cliff-hanger of the evening will be the fate of eurosceptic and bail-out critical Alternative for Germany (AfD), with most public television and private party polls putting them within a hair’s breath of clearing the five per cent hurdle to enter parliament on their first attempt.

Should these early numbers hold, Angela Merkel’s mostly likely hope for a third term is to put together another grand coalition with the SPD, a repeat of her first term administration.

SPD challenger Peer Steinbrück, her first-term finance minister, has said he is not willing join another Merkel-lead cabinet but, even before today’s poll, his party was drafting a list of demands for entering government.

Two other options present themselves after today’s vote, though they are more arithmetically than politically possible. The first is a three-way SPD-Green-Left Party coalition: this was dismissed out of hand by the SPD and Greens during the campaign and may fall short of a parliamentary majority.

The exit poll numbers also suggest, on paper at least, a CDU-Green coalition would also be possible. Again, both sides rule out such an alliance, though concede that, by abandoning nuclear power and compulsory military service, Angela Merkel has successively rolled back CDU policies most at odds with Green thinking.

Some 62 million Germans were entitled to vote yesterday. At 73 per cent, turnout today was up two points on 2009

After a campaign that went down to the wire, yesterday’s cliffhanger result is a vote of confidence in the politics of Angela Merkel. However the possibility of a new right-wing Bundestag challenger in the AfD could complicate a third term.

After 13 years as CDU leader, and eight crisis-filled years in office, her campaign was built around her low-key personality, with policy borrowed liberally from others’ manifestos.

The SPD and Greens ran a centre-left programme of fiscal redistribution, promising tax increases for top earners and a statutory minimum wage of €8.50. Though Dr Merkel dismissed tax increases, she threw overboard decades of CDU opposition to promise a wage floor in all non-tariff sectors. When the SPD and Greens promised a law to reign in rent increases, the CDU did the same -- months after the Merkel coalition voted to abolish rent controls.

Selling these policy about-faces was a low-key CDU leader. She presented herself as a safe pair of hands and her opponents as a risky experiment in uncertain times. A third Merkel term, she suggested, was key to German economic prosperity and to maintaining Berlin’s path of conditional support to partners in the euro crisis.

That appealed to supporters at rallies -- and at polling stations yesterday.

“I like her style of waiting to make the right decision, rather than choosing this one day and that the other,” said Erika, 62, after voting in Berlin’s western Wilmersdorf neighbourhood.

CDU voters also appear to have heeded Dr Merkel’s warnings and not voted strategically to prop up the failing FDP. With these elections taking place under a modified election system, CDU strategists feared unintended consequences from such a sympathy vote.

But, losing her FDP centre-right coalition partner means the German leader will come under pressure to heed calls for greater solidarity and stimulus measures -- at home and abroad

“We need a change, better wages for low-earners and greater effort to tackle tax fraud,” said Giorgios Marudas, 57, a Greek-born German citizen in Wilmersdorf, who voted for the Left Party. “In Greece people need a break, saving alone won’t work, neither will loans at ridiculous interest rates.”