Angela’s victory

German voters have handed Merkel an emphatic win. But the road ahead may not be smooth.

In a decisive endorsement of her policies at home and in Europe, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic bloc gathered a stunning 41.5 per cent of the vote, only a few seats short of an absolute majority. The conservatives have not registered such a victory since the heady days of reunification in 1990, when then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl won a third term — and brought an inexperienced, 35-year-old Merkel into the fold from the communist east. Merkel is only the third post-war chancellor to be returned to power for the third time, and the only European leader to be re-elected since the onset of the eurozone crisis in 2010. Yet, the task of forming a stable government might be more complicated than the numbers suggest.

Although Merkel convincingly beat her main rivals — the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), which received just over 25 per cent of the vote — her junior coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party, a traditional kingmaker, has failed to cross the 5 per cent threshold required under Germany's proportional representation system for seats in the Bundestag, as the German parliament is known. This means Merkel will likely need to pursue a grand alliance with the SDP, as in her first term in 2005-09 — a prospect the SDP is understandably unenthusiastic about after losing big in the 2009 election as a result of the conservatives getting much of the credit for that government's management of the global financial crisis. In the absence of a secure governing coalition, Merkel could struggle to push legislation through an upper house dominated by left-leaning parties.

So, rather than going it alone, Merkel will probably hunt for a stable coalition. This is likely to take days, if not weeks, of tense negotiations that will be keenly observed at home, and across Europe and the rest of the world. The verdict was clearly in favour of continuity in Germany's eurozone policies. But with the conservatives having to court an alliance, Merkel might be compelled to focus a little more on stimulating growth across the eurozone in search for a solution to the crisis, signalling a slight easing in the push for austerity, which will be welcomed by other European countries.

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