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Strong Merkel starts final vote drive wary of allies’ weaknesses

AFP-JIJI, AP

Chancellor Angela Merkel launched a final week of election campaigning Monday with the wind at her back after a resounding victory for her conservatives in a Bavarian state poll.

But while her conservatives captured nearly one vote in two in the wealthy southern region Sunday, their coalition partners in Bavaria and at the national level, the Free Democrats (FDP), crashed out of the regional parliament.

Analysts said the result made a third term for Merkel look increasingly likely in next Sunday’s general election.

But it raises the prospect of a nail-biter finish to see whether she can continue her center-right government or will have to form a “grand coalition” with her traditional rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD).

“This result means the federal election will be even more suspenseful,” political scientist Juergen Falter told the online edition of the daily Bild. “It’s now more likely that you will see a grand coalition.”

Newsweekly Der Spiegel said on its website that Merkel’s coalition faces “sizable risks,” agreeing that a grand coalition now has stronger odds. “The good poll results in recent weeks and now the excellent CSU (Christian Social Union) result could lead many CDU (Christian Democratic Union) voters to think it’s all over (and stay home on election day),” it said. “Of even more concern to the Christian Democrats is the weakness of their coalition partner.”

The conservative ruling CSU captured a majority of seats in the Bavarian parliament in Munich with 48.8 percent of the vote, according to early results. Its victory means it can drop the FDP and govern alone.

“That is a huge vote of confidence,” incumbent state Premier Horst Seehofer told cheering supporters.

Merkel campaigned hard in the state, pointing out that a big win in Bavaria would lend momentum to her bid for another term at the helm of Europe’s top economic power.

At a campaign event in the eastern city of Dresden on Sunday, a camera drone had a rough landing in front of Merkel after police told its operator to bring down the craft.

Merkel watched in amusement as the small orange drone went down on its side in front of her.

City police said a 23-year-old man had sent up the drone at the open-air event in hopes of taking photos that he could then sell. Officers told him to land the drone, which he apparently did in great haste.

The man was briefly detained but quickly let go after police determined that he and the drone posed no danger.

National polls give Merkel’s conservatives a 13-point lead over the Social Democrats, who scored just under 20 percent in Bavaria, historically a conservative state, according to the provisional results.

Merkel’s chief election rival, Peer Steinbrueck of the SPD, took heart from the Free Democrats’ catastrophe. “This is the 13th state election in a row in which the center-right love match failed to win,” he told public television. “There is a good chance that this will also happen on the federal level in a week’s time.”

The ecologist Greens turned in a dismal 8 percent, in keeping with a downward trend on the national level.

The CSU has ruled Bavaria uninterrupted for 56 years with a winning strategy of “laptops and lederhosen” — high-tech business savvy coupled with proud tradition — in a region home to industrial giants such as BMW, Audi and Siemens.

Commentators said the poor showing in Bavaria by the Free Democrats could in fact give them a boost next Sunday.

Voters who would like to see the Merkel alliance continue and who are concerned about the FDP’s debacle in Bavaria might give votes to the party, dragging on the conservatives’ own score.

That prospect led many Christian Democrats to warn against ceding votes to the FDP.

“The FDP will be fine on its own — stay cool, don’t give away our votes,” federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier wrote on Twitter.

Merkel led a left-right grand coalition during her first four-year term. In the last election in 2009, a thumping 14.6 percent result for the FDP allowed Merkel to form a government with the conservatives’ traditional allies.

  • Christopher-trier

    The FDP have also traditionally been weaker in Bavaria than in other parts of Germany. The FDP have strengthened a little bit — enough to get into parliament, it seems, and the SPD have stagnated while the Greens have declined.