Merkel’s 2nd term off to a bumpy start

October 28, 2009

After spending the last four years trapped in a loveless grand coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats, Germany’s conservative chancellor Angela Merkel is looking forward to happier, more productive days in a cosy new centre-right coalition with her preferred partners, the pro-business Free Democrats.

However, rather than smooth sailing with her new, more like-minded coalition partners, it’s turned out to be one turf battle after another between Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, on the one side and the Free Democrats on the other.

Weeks of unseemly arguing over tax cuts, healthcare, conscription and other issues in coalition talks has earned the new coalition the nickname Fehlstart” (false start) in the German media.

That awkward beginning was confirmed in a most embarrassing fashion for Merkel on Wednesday when at least nine deputies in her own coalition withheld their support.

Merkel was easily re-elected chancellor with 323 votes in the 622-seat parliament, 11 more than she needed. The nine deputies who either abstained or voted against her in the secret ballot served as a tangible reminder that the CDU/CSU and FDP might not be the marriage made in heaven some had expected. It was a political kick in the shins that Merkel did not need.

Four years ago she got 397 of the 612 votes, 51 less than the CDU/CSU and SPD had together. That, however, was not surprising because the grand coalition had an enormous majority in parliament and because the two camps had long been such arch enemies. This time around it was nine deputies in her own preferred coalition who stabbed her in the back. Is that a harbinger of things to come?

“Let’s try forget about this,” said Volker Kauder, CDU parliamentary floor leader. Several conservatives are already picking holes in the coalition deal, which is only a few days old. Kauder said he was sure all the CDU/CSU deputies voted for Merkel. The FDP’s parliamentary floor leader, Birgit Homburger, said the same of her party.

At least one of them was wrong. 

PHOTO: Merkel reacts after her re-election on Wednesday by a narrower than expected margin in parliament. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

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