Sun, Nov 20, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Merkel signs pact to form German left-right coalition

AP , BERLIN

Conservative leader Angela Merkel took a last step toward becoming Germany's first female chancellor when she and other party officials signed a hard-won agreement to form a left-right coalition government.

A smiling Merkel put her signature on the blue-bound, 143-page document that spells out everything from an increase in value-added tax to targets for renewable energy supplies.

"It is our job is to make sure that the paper doesn't remain just paper, but that in the coming days, weeks and years we bring it to life," said Merkel, the head of the Christian Democratic Union.

Merkel joined with Edmund Stoiber, leader of the Christian Democrat's Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union, and Social Democratic Party chairman Matthias Platzeck in putting their names to the deal in a ceremony on Friday before hundreds of journalists and public officials in a parliamentary office building in Berlin.

The signing, largely a formality after congresses from each party voted overwhelmingly to support the agreement last week, is the final hurdle before parliament meets on Tuesday to elect 51-year-old Merkel as the country's eighth post-World War II chancellor -- and first woman to hold the office.

The former scientist would in addition be the first chancellor to have grown up under communism in the former East Germany.

The accord, titled "Together for Germany -- with courage and humanity," was concluded on Nov. 11 after weeks of negotiations between politicians who have spent the past few years criticizing each other's policies as partisan opponents.

The alliance of former rivals emerged after an inconclusive Sept. 18 election in which voters ousted the government of Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, but left neither side with a parliamentary majority to govern with their preferred small partners.

The new government, however, should be able to count on a crushing parliamentary majority, with the coalition partners holding 448 of the 614 seats in the lower house. The new government's difficulty will instead be in forging internal unity as it confronts the country's thorny issues.

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