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Europe

Merkel has centre-right majority with 33.5%, exit polls show

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Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-09-27

Chancellor Angela Merkel has won a second mandate in the German federal elections with a new centre-right CDU/CSU coalition holding 33.5% of the vote, exit polls show. The SPD suffered their worst score since the war with 22%.

AFP - Angela Merkel swept to a second mandate in the German election Sunday with a new centre-right alliance she said was best-placed to jumpstart Europe's ailing top economy, exit polls indicated.
  
The exit polls released as voting closed showed the 55-year-old Merkel's conservative Christian Union bloc (CDU/CSU) as the clear winners with about 33 percent of the vote.
  
That will mean that Merkel, Germany's first female leader and the only chancellor from the ex-communist east, can serve another four-year term.
  
Her favoured partners, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), captured around 15 percent, exit polls suggested, meaning they will likely return to government for the first time since 1998.
  
Under Germany's complex electoral arithmetic, their combined score of  percent will likely be enough to put them over the top.
  
The Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in Merkel's loveless "grand coalition", plummeted to between 22 and 23 percent -- their worst score since the war -- and will be banished to the opposition after 11 years in government.
  
Preliminary results were to trickle in over the course of the night, at the end of a campaign dominated by Germany's deep economic troubles, as the world's number-two exporter bore the brunt of the global crisis.
  
Heightened security after warnings from Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other Islamic militants over Germany's increasingly bloody mission in Afghanistan also cast a shadow over voting.
  
Merkel enjoyed a strong lead in the polls throughout what was widely criticised as an uninspiring and superficial campaign.
  
Although her SPD challenger, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, 53, narrowed the gap in recent weeks, it was not enough to prevent a debacle for the country's oldest political outfit and one of two "people's parties" that have governed the country in the post-war era.
  
The popular Merkel, Forbes magazine's most powerful woman on the planet for four years running, had argued that Germany needed a new, centre-right government to end its steepest post-war economic downturn.
  
"Voters will decide tomorrow how quickly we get out of this crisis," Merkel told a final rally in Berlin Saturday. "We are fighting for the German jobs of the future."
  
Awaiting Merkel's new-look coalition is a bulging in-tray of problems.
  
Unemployment is forecast to shoot higher, and health care, education and the bloated social security system are in dire need of reform. German public finances are in tatters and its population ageing fast.
  
Abroad, the main challenge is Afghanistan, where Germany has around 4,200 troops in the NATO force ensnared in the eighth year of an ever more deadly struggle with insurgents.
  
The mission, opposed by most voters, may become a major domestic headache for Merkel if violence worsens in the north of the war-ravaged country where Germany's soldiers are based.
  
With all of the main parties in the Bundestag lower house backing the deployment, with the exception of the far-left Die Linke, the Afghan mission failed to register as a decisive issue.
  
But the war may become a battleground in the next parliament, particularly if the SPD finds itself in opposition.
  
If there is not a sufficient effort to build up the Afghan army and police, "the US will have a second Vietnam, and Germany its first," the Berliner Zeitung daily said in an editorial last week.
  
Merkel moved her conservative party steadily to the centre in her first term in power and the next kingmaker will have a significant say in which tack the government takes.
  
The FDP is expected to pressure her to push through deep tax cuts to kickstart the still recession-hit economy, sign off on her plans to extend the life of the country's 17 nuclear reactors and likely resist efforts by Merkel, a former environment minister, to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
  

Date created : 2009-09-27

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