Berlin, Sept. 23: Angela Merkel has scored a stunning personal triumph in German elections that have cemented her position as the most powerful politician in Europe, though the country is staring at tortuous coalition negotiations and the prospects of weeks of paralysis.
Merkel, who entered politics after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, is now widely viewed as the most powerful woman in the world.
The chancellor is also set to overtake Margaret Thatcher as Europe’s longest-serving elected female leader if the German leader serves out her fresh term. While Thatcher was in power for 11 years and six months, Merkel, now 59, would have put in 12 years if she completes the new term in 2017.
The surprising show of strength for Merkel and her Centre-Right Christian Democrats — even their own polls had not suggested such a result — was just short of an absolute majority, according to preliminary results. No chancellor has achieved an absolute majority since Konrad Adenauer in 1957.
But Merkel became the only major European leader to be re-elected twice since the financial crisis of 2008, winning a strong popular endorsement for her mix of austerity and solidarity in managing the troubled euro zone. Her calm leadership through the euro crisis has reinforced her status as “Mutti” (mother) of the nation.
Her conservatives have notched up their best election result in more than two decades. Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their allies, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, together won 41.5 per cent of the popular vote, which translates into 311 of the 630 seats in Parliament. In 2009, the two parties together won 33.8 per cent of the vote.
For all her success, it is not clear how Merkel will govern in her third four-year term. She will most likely try to form a coalition with the Centre-Left Social Democrats, who finished a poor second with their second-worst post-war result but still hold the key. The negotiations are likely to take weeks or months.
Merkel’s allies for the past four years, the business-minded Free Democrats, lost their place in Parliament.
But a significant minority moved to the extremes. The Right-wing Alternative for Germany, which wants to abolish the euro, fell just short of the 5 per cent threshold.
The Greens, which campaigned for tax hikes on the wealthy, tumbled from 20 per cent-plus showings to around 8 per cent. The Left Party, heir to the communists who built the Berlin Wall, still inspires distrust beyond its steady 8.6 per cent of votes.
Merkel’s critics have accused her of lacking strategic vision and say she has relied on tactical skills to survive. The election outcome “is the safest course for a country like Germany”, an analyst said. The mentality is “why rock the boat?”
A physicist raised in communist East Germany, Merkel was unusually buoyant on Sunday when she appeared before supporters who chanted “Angie! Angie!”
She exuberantly thanked her husband, Joachim Sauer, a quantum chemist. Sauer, who tends to shun the limelight, stood at the side of the stage, acknowledging the jubilation.
Later, during a celebration at her party headquarters, Merkel clapped and sang along with the crowds but reminded them: “Tomorrow, we work.”