Vote in crucial state: test for Merkel

08:49, May 10, 2010      

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Germans are voting in the country's most populous state on Sunday, two days after the German parliament approved an unpopular multi-billion-euro rescue package for Greece.

The state election in the North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is a crucial test for Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government, as experts warned that the coalition might encounter anger from voters, especially after Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble announced that Germany was planning an austerity program aimed at saving 10 billion euros (12.7 billion U.S. dollars) a year.

The NRW state, with a population of 18 million and 13 million registered voters, locates in the Rhine-Ruhr district -- one of the economic engines of Germany. The result of the NRW elections have traditionally been regarded as parameter of German's national election.

In 1995, Johannes Rau from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) formed a state administration with the Green Party. While at the federal level, SPD's Gerhard Schroder and Green Party's Joschka Fischer also beat Helmut Kohl's from the Christian-Democratic Union Party (CDU) in the general election to form a coalition in 1998.

Therefore, some analysts believed that if the current CDU-Free Democratic Party (FDP) coalition in the NRW state failed to secure majority, there would be some impacts on national politics.

They said that the coalition led by Merkel faced the risk of losing its majority in the upper house of the parliament, the Bundesrat, making it possible for the opposition to reject the coalition's reform bills, such as the 16-billion-euro (20-billion-dollar) tax cuts plan by 2012.

So far, the results of the NRW elections are regarded as open. Recent Forsa polls showed that supporting rates for the CDU and SPD both stood at 37 percent, while 10 percent were for the Greens, 6 percent for the FDP and 5 percent for the Left Party.

However, other latest surveys indicated the SPD had caught up considerably. Together with the Green Party, it performed better than the CDU-FDP coalition.

But the SPD's top candidate Hannelore Kraft said: "Some polls want to show us that we are just before the target. I issue a warning to these polls. Let us campaign to the last moment."

Germany decided on Friday to lend 22.4 billion euros (28.4 billion dollars) to Greece over the next three years, as part of a 110 billion-euro (140-billion-dollar) rescue plan backed by euro zone members and the International Monetary Fund, although the majority of Germans did not favor the controversial deal.

"The (bailout) issue has electrified people as seldom before and is going to play a determining role in the election," Klaus-Peter Schoeppner, head of the polling institute Emnid, told German regional daily newspaper Rheinische Post.

But Merkel said earlier that the financial bailout for Greece would "also serve Germany."

"A stable currency is the essential thing for welfare and security," she said.

Jurgen Ruttgers of the CDU, current governor of the NRW state, also said the rescue plan was not just about giving money to Greece, it would be also in the interests of Germany.

Currency stability is also essential for the NRW, whose exports and industrial products played a vital role in economic growth and employment, Ruttgers said.

For Merkel, latest polls showed that just 48 percent of the people were willing to vote for her again, comparing to the previous 70 percent. Merkel may want to get a hint from the "small national election" in NRW to shed some light on her fate in the next general elections.

CDU's possible loss of majority with the FDP may not be a disaster, "but it would certainly make things more complicated and difficult for the chancellor," said Gerd Langguth, a political scientist at the University of Bonn and Merkel's biographer.

Source: Xinhua
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