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Merkel flirts with FDP as German election heats up


German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her would-be allies, the opposition Free Democrats, did not waste any time putting their spin on the re-election of President Horst Koehler on Saturday – a razor-thin victory for the conservatives over the rival candidate put up by their coalition partners, the Social Democrats, in a vote four months before the parliamentary election.

Mere minutes after Koehler squeaked out a one-vote victory in the 1,224-seat Federal Assembly to win a second term as Germany’s ceremonial head of state, a beaming Merkel popped up on national television alongside FDP chairman Guido Westerwelle for a joint impromptu news conference rich with symbolism; it was the first time they appeared together in such a formal setting since the 2005 campaign.

“It’s no secret that we are working on achieving a majority together,” said Merkel at the briefing with the opposition leader while her coalition partners, the SPD, licked their wounds. “Today was certainly not a bad day as far as that goal is concerned,” added the chancellor, whose hopes for a centre-right coalition with the FDP after the 2005 election were spoiled when her conservatives got hit by a powerful downdraught at the very end of the campaign.

Westerwelle and Horst Seehofer, the chairman of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union, stood next to Merkel and called Koehler’s narrowest of victories an important “signal” for the September parliamentary election.