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The Party’s Over For Merkel

September 29, 2008

Suddenly, the outlook has darkened for Chancellor Angela Merkel, thanks to Bavaria’s conservatives who suffered their worst result in half a century in a state vote on Sunday.

German Chancellor Angela MerkelMerkel is used to riding high in polls and had looked to be cruising to re-election in a year’s time.

But the disaster in Bavaria, plus a clouded economic outlook due to financial crisis around the globe leave Merkel looking vulnerable and open to attack from within her conservative camp.

The prospect of a reinvigorated Social Democrat (SPD) party, with whom she shares power in a loveless coalition, under its new leadership is yet another headache.

Merkel’s enviable status as Germany’s most popular post-war chancellor isn’t helping her party which is languishing at around 37 percent in polls while the SPD, although weaker, is starting to make gains.

And the 17 percent slump in support for Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU),  is part of a trend.

This year, conservatives have endured heavy losses in all four states that have held elections and lost their absolute majority in Hamburg as well as Bavaria. Within weeks, the CDU could also lose power in Hesse where the SPD is expected to clinch a deal to oust CDU state premier Roland Koch after a knife-edge result in a Janaury vote.

Another left-right “grand coalition” looks more likely than ever as Merkel relies on the CSU – which accounts for more than 20 percent of the conservative bloc in parliament — for power.

If, as usual, the CSU performs worse in federal elections than in the state vote, Merkel could face a struggle to form the coalition she wants — with the liberal Free Democrats.

Merkel, who as the female,  Protestant leader of a predominantly male, Catholic party, has always struggled to fit in, may face still more unrest within the conservative camp.

Already Christian Wulff, a top CDU figure and head of Lower Saxony, has laid the blame christian-wulff.jpgfor Bavaria on Merkel, saying the losses were partly due to compromises struck by her coalition.

The chancellor may also have made a mistake in slapping down CSU demands for tax cuts as now she will face a more cantankerous CSU which is likely to push harder for those tax cuts and could block other reforms.

Bavarian conservatives probably have the worst behind them but Merkel may have the worst still to come.

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