Merkel Opens Campaign for a Third Term

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BERLIN -- Angela Merkel began her campaign for re-election on Tuesday with a display of the down-to-earth pragmatism that has helped make her immensely popular among Germans and well positioned to win a third term as chancellor next year.

Wielding two bouquets of bright orange flowers after delegates in her center-right Christian Democratic Union elected her to a seventh term as their party leader with a record 97.9 percent of the votes, Ms. Merkel took the podium and thanked the cheering crowd.

"Those who know me know that I'm overwhelmed and touched," she said. "And now, let's get to work. We have a lot to do."

With overall approval ratings close to 70 percent, Ms. Merkel, a 58-year-old daughter of a Lutheran pastor who grew up in East Germany, is viewed as being at the height of her powers. Surveys show her comfortably ahead of her closest rival, Peer Steinbrück of the center-left Social Democrats, before parliamentary elections next September.

Analysts point to her combination of pragmatism and readiness to compromise the driving force behind her popularity. Nils Diederich, a professor of political science at the Free University of Berlin, said Ms. Merkel had succeeded in shifting her party away from its traditionalist ideology, making it more attractive to mainstream Germans. In addition, she has shepherded her country through Europe's worst economic crisis in recent history and into a leadership role.

"During Ms. Merkel's tenure, she has led Germany into a position of greater strength than it has ever known," Mr. Diederich said. "Ms. Merkel has shown people that we have nothing to hide."

That confidence was on display in the chancellor's speech to delegates, who gathered on Tuesday for a two-day congress in the central city of Hanover. She praised her government as the country's most successful since its postwar reunification in 1990, despite the challenges it faces.

"These are turbulent times, and sometimes we find ourselves in stormy waters," Ms. Merkel said. She went on to highlight her government's successes, including low unemployment and economic stability in the face of the economic crisis crippling much of the rest of Europe.

"In such times, no other government could lead the country as successfully as our conservative-liberal coalition," Ms. Merkel told members.

In spite of the fact that the chancellor is personally popular, her government -- an alliance of her own conservative Christian Democratic Union with the sister party for the state of Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, and the pro-business Free Democrats -- is not.

Recent months have seen the Free Democrats bleeding support, opening the discussion for other possible alliances, with a so-called grand coalition of Ms. Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democrats -- a combination that Ms. Merkel governed during her first term as chancellor, from 2005 to 2009.

Increasingly the talk has been about whether the country's traditional conservative party would form an alliance with the more left-leaning and environmentalist Green party, which earned about 15 percent support in a survey released Tuesday by the polling group Insa.

Ms. Merkel's conservatives earned 35 percent, placing them in the strongest position, but requiring they find a coalition partner, according to the poll published in the Bild newspaper.

For the first time in weeks, the poll showed the Free Democrats earning 5 percent support, enough to secure representation in Parliament, making them available to form a coalition.

Nevertheless, the chancellor is keeping her options open. In a playful dig at her coalition partner, Ms. Merkel drew laughs from the crowd by citing a recent satire as saying, "Perhaps God created the F.D.P. only to test us."

Compared with all other possible constellations from Germany's political scene, Ms. Merkel said nevertheless that the current government of conservatives and economic liberals had the most in common.

"We share common values and principles," she said. "And these are the values and principles that we need to successfully overcome today's challenges."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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