German Election Inconclusive

In case you haven't seen any English newspaper commentary on the German elections yet, here's an excerpt from an article in the New York Times (19 Sept. 05):

"Schröder is playing a real tough power game now," said Claus Leggewie, a political scientist at Giessen University. "His argument is, "I have a won a plebiscite of the German people, but it's unreal because he has no majority."

Still, if the options for Mr. Schröder all seemed fraught with potential difficulty, those for Mrs. Merkel seemed equally tough. Only a few weeks ago, as the election campaign accelerated, polls showed Mrs. Merkel almost a sure winner, in combination with the Free Democrats, so much so that she was almost treated in the German press as if she had already become Germany's first woman chancellor.

Mrs. Merkel seemed to have every advantage given Germany's actual situation - especially an unemployment rate of more than 11 percent that Mr. Schröder, despite many promises, had conspicuously failed to reduce. This failure was the reason for several embarrassing losses in state elections during the fall for the Social Democrats. Indeed it was one such loss, in North Rhine Westphalia in the spring, that led Mr. Schröder to call for early elections, a gesture that at the time was widely interpreted as a way for Mr. Schröder to engineer an early departure from German politics.

But Mrs. Merkel, who campaigned on what she called the need for a thoroughgoing reform to revitalize the German economy, led what many analysts, and, apparently, the German public, felt to be a weak, unfocused and even self-contradictory campaign. Mr. Schröder, meanwhile, made speech after speech hammering at the point that Mrs. Merkel's proposed reforms would mean new inequality in Germany, as well as an end to Germany's traditional social welfare system.

"In my perspective, the majority of the German population is still not ready to accept a real hard reform course," said Uwe Andersen , a political scientist at Ruhr University in Bochum.

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