November 22, 2005

Merkel elected Germany’s first woman chancellor

By Markus Krah and Noah Barkin

BERLIN (Reuters) - Angela Merkel was elected Germany's
first woman chancellor on Tuesday in a parliamentary vote that
ends months of uncertainty and ushers in a fragile new
government with the task of reviving Europe's largest economy.

Merkel, leader of the conservative Christian Democrats
(CDU), won 397 votes in the 614-seat Bundestag, the lower house
of parliament, easily securing the majority she needed to
become Germany's eighth postwar chancellor and the first to
have grown up in the former communist east.

Her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder was the first to
congratulate a smiling Merkel after parliamentary speaker
Norbert Lammert announced the result to a hushed chamber.

"Dear Dr Merkel, you are now the first ever elected female
head of government in Germany. That is a strong signal for many
women, and certainly for some men too," Lammert said to

Merkel and her cross-party cabinet of conservatives and
Social Democrats (SPD) will be sworn in later on Tuesday,
formally taking over from the SPD-Greens government that
Schroeder has led for the past seven years.

Merkel's confirmation as chancellor comes two months after
her conservatives narrowly beat Schroeder's party in a general
election she had been expected to win easily.

The result left the 51-year-old pastor's daughter with no
choice but to form a coalition with her long-time rivals.
During tough month-long coalition negotiations, Merkel had to
abandon her plans for a shake-up of the German social welfare

Her government is vowing to repair relations with
Washington, strained by Schroeder's opposition to the U.S.-led
war in Iraq. It has also promised to revive the economy, once
Europe's motor but now one of the more sluggish in the
25-nation EU, and cut unemployment that hit postwar highs under

She must hope that the central plank of her coalition
program -- an agreement to bring the budget deficit back within
EU borrowing limits by 2007 through higher sales taxes -- will
not hinder growth by cramping consumer spending.


With 397 votes, Merkel won more support in parliament than
any previous chancellor, but 51 of the 448 members of
parliament from her coalition chose not to support her, leading
some politicians to express disappointment.

"It's not a very good result, but also not a bad one
either. I would have preferred if it had been 401, but it's a
good start," said Thomas De Maiziere, who will be Merkel's
Chancellery chief.

Merkel represents a generational change and a break in
style from the flamboyant Schroeder, who favored Italian suits
and fat cigars and seemed most at ease when in the media

Her sober, low-key approach has been mocked in the German
media, but some commentators say it is tailor-made for her new
coalition, which bridges right and left and will require
delicate management.

Like her political mentor, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl,
Merkel has been underestimated throughout her career. That
helped her push aside rivals in her male-dominated, heavily
Catholic CDU and may work to her advantage again.

Polls show a majority of Germans are convinced her unwieldy
alliance -- the country's first "grand coalition" since the
1960s -- will not last a full four-year term.

But her cabinet is dominated by pragmatists, and the
government's stability could also be helped by a strong sense
within both rival camps that failure would prompt voters to
abandon them in any early elections.

"Damned to succeed," was the headline of an editorial in
top-selling German daily Bild.

(Additional reporting by Erik Kirschbaum, Nicholas
Antonovics and Karin Strohecker)