- Title: GERMANY: POLITICS - Polls open as voters decide on new government
- Date: 28th September 2009
- Summary: BERLIN, GERMANY (SEPTEMBER 27, 2009) (REUTERS) BERLIN'S LANDMARK BRANDENBURG GATE TOP OF BRANDENBURG GATE VICTORY COLUMN THROUGH BRANDENBURG GATE TELEVISION TOWER (SOUNDBITE) (German) RALF GRIESMANN, SAYING "I think that the big parties will lose and that the FDP and Left Party will increase their support." VARIOUS OF SATELLITE TRUCKS VARIOUS OF CHANCELLOR'S OFFICE FRONT OF PARLIAMENT BUILDING REICHSTAG REICHSTAG DOME OF REICHSTAG GERMAN FLAG BONN, GERMANY (SEPTEMBER 27, 2009) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF POLLING STATION EXAMPLE OF BALLOT PAPER OFFICIALS INSIDE STATION VARIOUS OF VOTERS VOTING SIGN FOR POLLING STATION VOTER PUTTING BALLOT PAPER IN BALLOT BOX BERLIN, GERMANY (SEPTEMBER 27, 2009) (REUTERS) MAN WALKING OUT FROM BEHIND SCREEN OFFICIAL MAN PUTTING BALLOT PAPER INTO BALLOT BOX VOTER REGISTERING TO VOTE SCREENS VOTER PUTTING BALLOT PAPER INTO BOX
- Embargoed: 13th October 2009 13:00
- Location: Germany
- Country: Germany
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAD0BV3ZFLRA4ALH50282TN66LJ
- Story Text: Germans started voting in a general election on Sunday (September 27) in a vote which could give Chancellor Angela Merkel a second term in office.
Merkel looks set to win a second term in Sunday's election, but faces a tough battle to secure the centre-right government she says is needed to nurture Europe's largest economy back to health.
Merkel, 55, remains popular four years after taking power atop an awkward "grand coalition" with the Social Democrats (SPD), and polls give her conservatives a healthy 8-11 point lead over to their traditional rivals before the vote.
But after a campaign widely criticised for lacking passion and substance, Merkel's party has seen its support dip in the final weeks and she is no longer assured of her coalition of choice with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP).
Should she fail in her bid to team up with the FDP, she will probably be forced into the same uneasy right-left partnership that she has presided over since 2005.
That would doom her plans to reduce taxes, pare back the role of the state in the economy and extend the lifespan of German nuclear power plants that are scheduled to be shut down over the next decade.
At a final rally in Berlin on the eve of the vote, Merkel told some 3,000 supporters that Germany needed the stability that would come with a centre-right government, and said the SPD would push up taxes and endanger a nascent recovery.
Her SPD challenger, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, speaking in Dresden, urged voters to block Merkel's preferred coalition, saying it would polarise German society by helping the wealthy at the expense of the poor.
The election comes at a crucial time for Germany, which is just emerging from its deepest recession of the post-war era.
The next government will have to get a soaring deficit under control and cope with rising unemployment as the impact of 81 billion euros ($119 billion) in government stimulus fades.
Germany's fragile banks have reined in lending, sparking fears of a credit crunch. Longer-term, Berlin must find solutions to an ageing population that threatens to send public pension and healthcare costs soaring over the coming decades.
In spite of these challenges, the German vote is not seen as a "Richtungswahl", or turning-point election, and the next government is unlikely to push for radical new policies, regardless of its make-up.
Unlike voters in the United States and Japan, Germany's 62 million-strong electorate does not seem keen for change. Many are content with the steady "small-steps" leadership of Merkel, the country's first woman chancellor and first to have grown up in the former communist east.
In her first term, she patched up relations with Washington after the strains of the Iraq war and won respect for brokering a series of deals on climate change during Germany's dual presidencies of the European Union and Group of Eight in 2007.
At home, Merkel adapted her policies to the shape of her coalition, shelving plans for far-reaching economic reform that she advocated in her first campaign and focusing on traditional themes of the left, such as family policy and the environment.
Her government was accused of reacting too slowly to the financial crisis but it then pushed through two successive stimulus packages, including a car-scrapping scheme that shored up German automakers and was later copied by the United States.
If the race is tight, pollsters say Merkel may benefit from a quirk in German election rules that could give her conservatives extra "overhang" seats in parliament and tip the scales towards a centre-right majority.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
- Usage Terms/Restrictions: None