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As Merkel steps down, squabbles over Cabinet berths to delay new coalition

Going by the volume of bouquets Chancellor Angela Merkel is receiving, the last 16 years have been the golden age of Germany as Europe's best practising democracy and the largest economy. She ruled like the primus inter pares among the titans, navigating the world through many a crisis like the great global meltdown, and is set to surpass Helmut Kohl as the longest serving Chancellor if she stays beyond December 17 as caretaker. At the personal level, Merkel has always been cheerful, dynamic, determined and totally fearless (only exception being dogs!), come what may! She is stepping down. And it's curtains for the glorious era of the Germans!

Election has been conducted; in a close vote no party getting absolute majority as it always happens, leading to coalition Governments. This time a Third World type of bargaining by parties is on to corner plum portfolios as price for partnership. A "traffic light" Government is not totally ruled out, leaving behind the "black" Conservatives - FDP bargaining for Finance and the Greens for Foreign affairs in plausible alignments.

BERLIN, Sept 29: After 16 years in power as the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel is calling it quits as her current term is ending by Christmas. Her Conservative party's candidate to succeed her has lost the election held last Sunday to be the first-placed, leading party. A new coalition is in the works, to take over from the outgoing 'grand coalition' of Merkel by December.

The Conservative CDU's Armin Laschet's gaffes during the campaign, especially his visit to the flood-ravaged regions recently where he was seen smiling amidst the scenes of death and devastation, denuded much of the support of the Conservatives. They got just 24.1% of the votes against a squabbling coalition partner SPD's 25.7%. Besides, the feckless Laschet is facing intra-party rumblings. Some have asked him to quit. On the contrary, Bavarian sister party CSU's chief Markus Söder is a widely popular leader.

The breakup of the result is: SPD 206, CDU-CSU 196, Greens 118, FDP 92, AfD 8, Linke 39, SSW 13 and others. Total number of seats at present is 735.

In the election to the Bundestag, the Lower House of parliament, there were 60 million Germans eligible to vote. The voting pattern is unique in the sense that a voter has two votes and he votes for an MP as well as a party and the number of seats varies in a very strange seat allocation in the final tally that makes it all an intricate affair exclusive to Germany.

The party winning largest number of seats usually forms the Federal Government, in coalition if it does not have absolute majority leading to hard bargaining for prestigious and more powerful slots in the Cabinet. Although German democracy is the most flourishing in Europe. A second-placed party forming a coalition Government has been a very rare occurrence in German history (1976 and 1980: Chancellor Helmut Schmidt).

Currently the parties have to sort out their hard positions on hot issues like climate change and taxes. Anyway, a return of Merkel's 'Grand Alliance' of squabbling partners (SPD and CDU) stands no chance. This outgoing alliance is composed of Merkel's CDU, its sister party CSU and arch enemy SPD.

The latest take on a likely protracted Government-making process is that the SPD announced on Tuesday that they plan to talk to the Greens and FDP later this week.

The parties:

  • Christian Democratic Union (CDU) (party colour: black) (centre centre-right) is Merkel's Conservative party. Armin Laschet is its candidate. The Christian Social Union (CSU) of Bavaria is its sister party.
  • Christian Social Union (CSU) (party colour: blue) (centre-right) of Bavaria led by chief Markus Söder is sister party to CDU).
  • Social Democratic Party (SPD) (party colour: red) (centre-left) has been in coalition with the Conservatives. Its leader Olaf Scholz is Germany's Finance Minister and the candidate fighting Armin Laschet for the top slot.
  • Greens (Grune) (party colour: green) (centre-left): The left-wing party focuses on social justice and climate. Its leader is Annalena Baerbock. It has not been in coalitions.
  • Free Democratic Party (FDP) (party colour: yellow) (centre centre- right) Liberal and business-friendly
  • Die Linke (Die) (party colour: purple) (far left)
  • Alternative for Germany (AfD): (party colour: light blue) (far-right)
  • South Schleswig Voters' Association (SSW): (centre)

An opinion poll done before the election had shown 56% Germans wanted Olaf Scholz to be Chancellor, while a mere 11% preferred Laschet.

Olaf Scholz, who won the election as the first-placed in voting, believes he will get the support of the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats to form a three-way "traffic light" Government. (The partners' party colours put together looks like traffic light. So also other combinations have acquired different popular names like a CDU-led alliance with the Greens and the Liberals is labeled a “Jamaica” coalition as the party colours of black, green and yellow is that country’s flag.)

Meanwhile, tributes to Merkel are pouring in in abundance. Her exit brings down the curtain on a dynamic era in European politics and economics post-War. She has been described as a manager of problems, problem-solver, trouble-shooter, respectful, strong and compassionate at the same time. Always displayed a noticeable sense of humour in-built.

Endowed with a political skill that brought world leaders around, she was determined and smart, always cheerful. Merkel has worked like first among equals with five British Prime Ministers, four French Presidents, seven Italian Prime Ministers, four American Presidents and the Russian President.

Germany's youngest Chancellor, she took hard decisions. She has made a beginning to make Germany nuclear-free, taking lessons from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The first female Chancellor, Merkel steps down.

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