Merkel makes personal pitch in election home straight
BERLIN - Agence France-Presse
Picture taken on July 14, 2013 shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaving after a summer recess interview with the German public broadcaster ARD next to the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament in Berlin. AFP photoIn the end game of a tight election race, Chancellor Angela Merkel promised voters Friday they will be in safe hands if she stays on as leader of Europe's economic giant.
"Germany has had four good years," she wrote to five million households ahead of Sunday's election, in which she is seeking a third term for her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) led government.
"We have achieved a lot together. I also want the next four years to be good," wrote Merkel, who is dubbed "Mummy" in her country and often called the world's most powerful woman.
"If you want me to keep working as your chancellor, then please give your votes to the CDU on Sunday," said the letter signed "Your Angela Merkel". Latest polls gave popular Merkel's conservative coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) a strong lead over the opposition alliance of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the ecologist Greens.
However the margin for Merkel's camp over the combined left opposition narrowed to a razor-thin 45.5-44.5 percent -- but this includes the far-left Linke, which has been rejected as a coalition partner by all other parties.
"We should expect a government in which the conservatives are the strongest political force and Mrs Merkel very likely the chancellor," said Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist with Berlin's Free University.
The question for most observers is with whom Merkel will end up governing.
A wildcard factor are small parties which have hovered either just above or below a crucial five-percent mark required for entry into parliament -- including the new eurosceptic AfD, which scored four percent in the poll.
Merkel's biggest liability are her junior coalition partners, the FDP, who are hovering on the edge of political survival after being kicked out of Bavaria's state parliament in elections last week, raising tensions between the partners.
The FDP, in a desperate bid to stay in power, has urged conservative voters to "split" their ballots, by casting ballots for the CDU in their district but giving the Free Democrats their second or party vote to save the coalition.
Merkel in her letter and countless speeches implored her supporters to do no such thing and avoid what one newspaper dubbed a "blood transfusion" for the struggling FDP.
Should the smaller party crash out, Merkel's conservatives would have to seek new partners -- most likely their traditional rivals the centre-left SPD, with whom they ruled in a previous "grand coalition" from 2005 to 2009.
For now the two big parties remained in battle mode, seeking to energise their base and win over millions of undecided voters.
Merkel was headed to Munich later Friday on the eve of the world-famous Oktoberfest beer festival, days after the CDU's regional sister party scored a huge victory in a state election.
Her challenger, the SPD's Peer Steinbrueck, at a Berlin rally Thursday made a spirited call for more social justice and solidarity in Europe as well as a more muscular leadership style than what he labelled Merkel's "going around in circles".
The self-styled "straight talk" candidate has suffered through series of gaffes and blunders, not helped by a magazine cover photograph last week that showed him giving the middle finger as a non-verbal reply to a question on his limping candidacy.
The image heightened the contrast between brash and outspoken Steinbrueck and what has been called the sphynx-like persona of Merkel, a deliberative leader who often sits out problems and avoids polarising language.
The chancellor's campaign trail symbol -- used in a giant placard at Berlin railway station -- is the diamond gesture she makes with her index fingers and thumbs when she doesn't know where to put her hands when photographed.
One supermarket chain Friday took the unusual step of taking out a full-page newspaper advertisement that stripped the battle down to its essential symbols. A mock ballot paper featured boxes with picture of hand gestures -- one making the diamond, the other flipping the bird. "If in doubt," it said, "chose the diamond."