Challenger Gains an Edge In German Vote Standoff

Angela Merkel's opposition Christian Democratic Union won a final seat in the late-voting district of Dresden, likely influencing coalition negotiations.
Angela Merkel's opposition Christian Democratic Union won a final seat in the late-voting district of Dresden, likely influencing coalition negotiations. (By Fabrizio Bensch -- Reuters)

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By Frank Ellmers
Associated Press
Monday, October 3, 2005

DRESDEN, Germany, Oct. 2 -- Conservative challenger Angela Merkel's party gained a seat Sunday in the last remaining district in parliamentary balloting, boosting her chances of becoming Germany's first female chancellor and giving the party extra momentum in coalition talks to form a new government.

With all 260 electoral districts accounted for, Andreas Laemmel from Merkel's party, the Christian Democratic Union, won the contest for a seat in Dresden with 37 percent of the vote. He defeated Marlies Volkmer from Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party, who had 32.1 percent.

While the outcome of the Dresden vote does not significantly alter the results of the Sept. 18 elections, the strength of an extra seat in Parliament is expected to give the conservatives a psychological advantage as they head into coalition talks, which have been stalled because both Merkel and Schroeder claim a mandate to be chancellor.

Roland Koch, the conservative governor of Hesse state, said the vote confirmed the Christian Democrats and their sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, as the strongest bloc in Parliament, which should choose the next chancellor.

"I see it as a step toward stability that we need to explain to the Social Democrats to stick to the rules," Koch said before final results were announced. "I see it as a signal for Angela Merkel."

More than 72.1 percent of those eligible in this east German district had cast ballots, officials said just after polls closed. The high turnout reflected how seriously the 219,000 registered voters here are taking balloting, which was delayed due to the death of a candidate during the election campaign.

The Sept. 18 vote centered on different visions of Germany's role in the world and how to fix its sputtering economy. Schroeder touted the country's role as a European leader willing to stand up to America, while Merkel pledged to reform the economy and strengthen relations with Washington.

Both Merkel and Schroeder claim the chancellorship, creating an obstacle in exploratory talks over whether there is enough common ground between the two to form what's known as a "grand coalition." The two were forced into the arrangement because neither won a majority.


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