Sun setting on Merkel coalition?

June 30, 2010

GERMANY-PRESIDENT/As the sun started to set on the west side of the Reichstag on Wednesday evening — and perhaps on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right government as well — delegates to the Bundesversammlung (Federal Assembly) began switching to beer from the preferred beverage earlier in the day — coffee, water and apple juice.
 
There was an unmistakeable air of “Endzeitstimmung” (doomsday atmosphere) on the comfortable rooftop terrace of the historic German parliament building, where the catering is superb and the view of Berlin breathtaking. 
 
The conservative delegates on the Reichstag roof were easy to spot — they were the ones with worried looks on their faces after a couple dozen unidentified “rats” from within their ranks twice failed in votes during the afternoon to give Merkel the votes she needed to get her candidate elected.

The conservatives were drinking their beer and trying to forget the day’s humiliation before going into battle for a third and final round later in the evening.

 ”It was a bit like Germany vs Serbia in the first two rounds,” said David McAllister, a leader in Merkel’s Christian Democrats in Lower Saxony, referring to a 1-0 World Cup loss earlier this month. “But the third round will be more like Germany vs England,” he added with a smile, referring to Germany’s 4-1 win over England on Sunday.
 
The opposition delegates were also easy to spot on the Reichstag rooftop terrace — they were the ones with smiles on their faces (and beer glasses in their hands) after seeing Merkel humiliated twice by her own coalition. Her candidate, Christian Wulff, fell short of the 623 votes he needed even though there are 644 delegates in the centre-right bloc.

Wulff got 600 in the first round and 615 in the second round. Even if he wins the third round later on Wednesday evening, Merkel has been badly damaged by the debacle.
 
The question on everyone’s mind is: How can someone lead one of the world’s most important countries if she can’t even keep her own coalition in line?
 
What is most unsettling for delegates in the centre-right bloc is that they don’t know who the defectors are. It has brought instant comparisons to the beginning of the end of the previous centre-left government of Social Democrats and Greens in 2005.

Early that year, the SPD and Greens were betrayed by someone from their own ranks on three votes in the state assembly of Schleswig-Holstein and state premier Heide Simonis was forced to resign. That humiliation sent tremors through then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s centre-left government and after a similar SPD-Greens government in North Rhine-Westphalia was voted out of power a few months later in May, Schroeder dramatically pulled the plug on his government. He called for snap elections — and ended up losing power to Merkel.
 
Will Wednesday’s debacle in the Reichstag mark the beginning of the end of Merkel’s reign?

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