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Shock move could usher in Germany's first woman ch


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Shock move could usher in Germany's first woman chancellor

25.05.05

By Noah Barkin

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder appears headed for a showdown with conservative rival Angela Merkel after his shock decision to bring forward federal elections by a year.

Schroeder’s office said he would seek a vote of confidence on July 1, the first legal step towards dissolving Parliament.

Polls put his Social Democrats far behind the conservatives, suggesting Germany could soon have its first woman chancellor.

"The chancellor will, given the constitutional deadlines, seek a vote of confidence on July 1," Government spokesman Thomas Steg said after Schroeder held talks with Christian Democrat (CDU) leader Merkel and representatives of other Opposition parties.

The statement said the aim was to hold elections after the summer holidays have ended in all of Germany’s 16 states - making September 18 the most likely date, assuming Schroeder’s unusual move does not hit any constitutional hurdles.

Schroeder announced the high-risk early election plan shortly after his Social Democrats (SPD) were booted out of office in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, ruled by the party for 39 years.

"It will be extremely difficult for him to come back, but it would have been more difficult a year down the road. That was his calculation," said Gary Smith, director of the American Academy, a Berlin think-tank.

A fresh poll underlined the mountain he will have to climb to win a third term, putting support for his SPD-Greens coalition on 37 per cent behind 53 per cent for the conservatives and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), their most likely partner.

The Infratest Dimap poll for ARD television found 43 per cent would like a conservative/FDP coalition compared with just 25 per cent who favoured another term for the SPD and Greens.

Merkel grew up in the former East Germany and became a protege of ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

"It comes down to a single question," she said after winning the backing of all the leading CDU members. "Who do the people trust to make Germany strong once again? On this question we are very confident."

To win, Schroeder must convince Germans that the conservatives, who have backed his efforts to overhaul Germany’s welfare system and labour market, will push for even more painful reforms, analysts said.

Two years ago, Schroeder unveiled a reform package that included cuts in jobless benefits and sparked protests across the country.

But the reforms have yet to create jobs, or boost growth - projected at only 1 per cent this year.

Schroeder may also be gambling that when given a choice between himself and Merkel, seen by many as less charismatic than the chancellor, voters will opt for the status quo.

A Forsa poll for RTL television and Stern magazine showed yesterday that, when asked their preference, 42 per cent of voters favoured Schroeder and only 30 per cent backed Merkel.

Merkel has been compared to Margaret Thatcher and given the nickname "Maggie Merkel", but her reform record does not match that of the pugnacious former British prime minister.

- REUTERS

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?c_id=2&ObjectID=10127333

Edited by ShiningKnight
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