Tue, Sep 29, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Merkel starts constituting new, center-right coalition

AP AND REUTERS , BERLIN AND MUNICH, GERMANY

German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday set about laying the groundwork for her new, center-right coalition as analysts warned that her victory might have a downside for her popularity.

Merkel, 55, who was voted back into office for a second term in Sunday’s elections, will spend the coming weeks building a new government with the Free Democrats, whose leader, Guido Westerwelle, 47, is widely expected to be tapped as her deputy and foreign minister.

But after four years at the head of a largely consensus-orientated grand coalition with the center-left Social Democrats — who suffered the biggest losses in Sunday’s vote — concerns emerged that Merkel’s partnership with a pro-business party might force her into a tough position in a country used to its generous social welfare state, and reluctant to face big changes.

“The golden times for Angela Merkel are over,” Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily wrote in an editorial yesterday, adding that the Free Democrats would force Merkel to steer a more economy-friendly and less popular course.

“If she continues to play the role of mother of the nation, she will have difficulties with the Free Democrats and her own party. If she becomes an iron lady, she loses her reputation with the people,” it said.

Merkel’s CDU and its Bavaria-only sister, the Christian Social Union, won 33.8 percent of the vote and the Free Democrats captured 14.6 percent — together enough to ensure a majority in parliament.

Merkel’s former partner in the uneasy “grand coalition,” the Social Democrats, took 23 percent. The Left Party had 11.9 percent and the Greens 10.7 percent.

“We have managed to achieve our election aim of a stable majority in Germany for a new government,” a beaming Merkel told supporters.

Nevertheless, her own party suffered its second-worst showing since World War II and there were fears that she could have trouble with the more traditional wing of her own party.

“In the coalition with the Free Democrats, she will be under stronger pressure from industrial lobbyists, from her pro-business partners, as well as from the conservatives within her own party,” the Berliner Zeitung daily wrote in a commentary yesterday.

Sunday’s result gave the conservatives 239 seats and the Free Democrats 93 in the lower house — for a comfortable center-right majority of 332 seats to 290. The Social Democrats won 146, the Left Party 76 and the Greens 68.

Meanwhile, German police took two suspected Islamists into custody after a series of al-Qaeda videos last week threatened Germany with attacks after Sunday’s election, a Munich police spokeswoman said.

Police in the southern city said they would hold the suspects until the end of the Oktoberfest beer festival on Sunday.

“Two people were taken into custody as a preventative measure,” the spokeswoman said on yesterday. “It is to do with the video threats.”

Security has been tight in Germany after a series of al-Qaeda videos threatened it with a “rude awakening” if voters backed a government that supports keeping troops in Afghanistan, where 4,200 Germans are stationed with NATO-led forces.

Both Merkel’s conservatives and the pro-business Free Democrats support the German mission in Afghanistan.

But members of both parties are keen to set a timetable for the withdrawal of German troops.

Munich police said they were further tightening security at the Oktoberfest, where thousands are gathered in a relatively small space, but there were no concrete indications there would be an attack in Germany.

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