Sun, Sep 22, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Merkel promises ‘safe hands’

CLOSE CALL:Fresh polls ahead of the German vote today show the chancellor and her conservative partner in a neck-and-neck race with the combined leftist opposition

AFP, BERLIN

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer arrive for a Christian Democratic Union election campaign event in Munich on Friday.

Photo: Reuters

As fresh polls showed a tightening of Germany’s election race on Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised voters they will be in safe hands if she stays leader of Europe’s economic giant.

“Germany has had four good years,” she wrote in a letter mailed to more than five million households ahead of today’s vote, in which she seeks a third term for her Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

“We have achieved a lot together. I also want the next four years to be good,” wrote Merkel, who is dubbed “Mummy” in her country and often called the world’s most powerful woman.

“If you want me to keep working as your chancellor, then please give your votes to the CDU on Sunday,” said the letter, signed “Your Angela Merkel.”

Two new polls placed her coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) neck-and-neck at 45 percent to 45 percent with the combined leftist opposition of the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the far-left Linke.

However, the Linke, which scored 9 percent in both polls, has been rejected as a coalition partner by all major parties.

“We should expect a government in which the conservatives are the strongest political force and Mrs Merkel very likely the chancellor,” Berlin Free University political scientist Gero Neugebauer said.

The big question is with whom Merkel would end up governing.

A wild card are small parties that have hovered close to the 5 percent mark needed for entry into parliament — especially the new euro-skeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD), which scored 4 percent in Friday’s Forsa institute poll and 4.5 percent in an Allensbach survey.

Merkel’s biggest liability are her junior partners the FDP, who were kicked out of Bavaria’s state parliament on Sunday last week, but would, according to the two polls, narrowly scrape by nationally with 5 percent or 5.5 percent.

The FDP, in a desperate bid to hold onto power, has urged conservatives to “split” their ballot by casting district votes for the CDU, but giving the Free Democrats their second, or party, vote to save the coalition.

Merkel in her letter implored her supporters to do no such thing and avoid what one newspaper dubbed a “blood transfusion” for the struggling FDP.

Should the smaller party crash out, Merkel would have to seek new partners — most likely her party’s traditional rivals the SPD, with whom she ruled in a previous 2005 to 2009 “grand coalition.”

For now the two big parties remain in battle mode, seeking to energize their base and win over millions of undecided voters.

Merkel headed to Munich later on Friday on the eve of the world-famous Oktoberfest beer festival, days after the CDU’s regional sister party scored a huge victory in Bavaria state.

Her challenger, the SPD’s Peer Steinbrueck, at a Berlin rally on Thursday made a spirited call for more social justice and solidarity in Europe, as well as a more muscular leadership than what he labeled Merkel’s “going around in circles.”

The self-styled “straight talk” candidate has suffered through a series of gaffes and blunders, not helped by a magazine cover photograph that showed him giving the middle finger as a non-verbal reply to a question on his limping candidacy.

The image heightened the contrast between brash Steinbrueck and what has been called the sphinxlike persona of Merkel, who often sits out problems and avoids polarizing language.

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