September 8, 2005

German election poll puts Merkel coalition behind

By James Mackenzie

BERLIN, Sept 8 - An opinion poll on Thursday showed
conservative challenger Angela Merkel does not have enough
support to form a center-right coalition, even though her
Christian Democrats (CDU) remains the strongest party.

The poll, by Infratest dimap for ARD public television, was
the third this week to show that Merkel's lead has shrunk since
a television debate with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on

It adds to signs she may be forced into a so-called "grand
coalition" with Schroeder's center-left Social Democrats (SPD),
an alliance that financial markets fear would hinder Merkel
from pushing through reforms of the labor market and tax

The poll showed support for the CDU and sister party, the
Christian Social Union (CSU), dipping to 41 percent, while
their preferred coalition allies, the liberal Free Democrats
(FDP), were at 6.5 percent.

That would give a center-right coalition a combined total
of 47.5 percent, behind a total of 49.5 percent for all the
other parties in parliament.

The survey showed Schroeder's SPD rising to 34 percent, his
Greens coalition partners on 7 percent, and the new Left Party
on 8.5 percent.

SPD party leaders have ruled out a coalition with the Left
Party, a recently formed alliance of former communists and
other leftists spearheaded by former SPD leader Oskar
Lafontaine, a foe of Schroeder's.

That means the only viable government could be a grand
coalition under Merkel, an outcome some experts fear would lead
to gridlock and increase the influence of fringe parties.


German media mainly judged the debate on Sunday a draw or
gave Schroeder a slight advantage. But surveys taken
immediately after the 90-minute clash showed that most viewers
say the Chancellor as the clear winner.

The ARD survey showed Schroeder's approval ratings have
risen sharply, with 54 percent of those questioned saying they
would vote for him if the vote were for the main candidate
alone rather than a party. Only 35 percent said they preferred
Merkel in a personality contest.

The election has so far been fought mainly on economic
issues, with the center-right accusing Schroeder of overseeing
a rise in jobless numbers to nearly 5 million and a budget that
has repeatedly broken European Union borrowing rules.

Schroeder has accused Merkel of wanting to dismantle
Germany's social security system and criticized the radical tax
reform proposals of her shadow Finance Minister Paul Kirchhof,
saying they would hurt ordinary tax payers.

Financial analysts say share markets would fall if there is
either a grand coalition or a left-wing coalition, which they
fear would roll back many of Schroeder's changes.

But the poll showed relatively strong support for a grand
coalition among voters, with 36 percent saying this would be
"the best thing for Germany" and only 29 percent saying a
center-right coalition would be best.

The poll of 1,000 people selected at random was conducted
on Tuesday and Wednesday and has a margin of error of 1.4 to
3.1 percentage points.