Germany's Chancellor Leads Conservative Party To Victory

Official election results confirm that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have won — but they finished short of an absolute majority. The likeliest outcome is a Merkel-led coalition with the Social Democrats.

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In Germany, low unemployment and a strong economy translated into a big election victory for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Conservative political party. This means a third term for the 59-year-old physicist. The win for Merkel was even bigger than predicted by her political party. Merkel's win is all the more impressive as other European leaders have fallen, with voters venting frustration over the continent's financial crisis.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports.

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SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: The normally reserved Merkel couldn't stop smiling last night as supporters at the Christian Democratic Union rally wildly chanted her name.

ANGELA MERKEL: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: She told them: We can all be happy. This is a super result. She also thanked voters and promised she and her party would not betray their trust.

Some analysts say that Merkel's strong victory in federal elections places her as Europe's predominant leader. Annette Heuser is the executive director of the Bertelsmann Foundation in Washington.

ANNETTE HEUSER: She got reconfirmation from 42 percent of the German public that she should stay in power, and that the course she took not only domestically but also within the European Union was approved.

NELSON: But the chancellor's hopes to return her current ruling coalition to the parliament were dashed. Official results show her junior partners - the liberal, pro-business Free Democrats - failed to win any seats.

RAINER BRUEDERLE: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Their top candidate, Rainer Bruederle, held back tears as he told his supporters about the worst showing ever for their party. He also took responsibility for what he described as a dark hour.

Their loss means Merkel will likely turn to her left-leaning opponents, the Social Democrats to create a new ruling coalition. Analyst Heuser says it's a prospect the chancellor probably welcomes.

HEUSER: She's uncomfortable if everything, you know, all the responsibilities are put on her shoulders. I think it looks right now that she would be more comfortable with forming a grand coalition because there is no doubt that the decisions that need to be taken, in the months and years to come, are really tough decisions first and foremost for the eurozone.

NELSON: But the relationship may well be cantankerous. Many analysts say that as a far weaker junior partner, the Social Democrats will find it tough to stand their ground. During the campaign, the two parties clashed over the Social Democratic call for tax increases and a nationwide minimum wage. Their frustration was visible at their rally last night, where Merkel's opponent in the race, Peer Steinbrueck lamented getting only a quarter of the votes.

PEER STEINBRUECK: (Foreign language spoken)

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NELSON: He told supporters the ball is in the chancellor's court to get a majority in parliament.

Turnout at yesterday's polls was higher than four years ago. In the left-leaning German capital, many voters appeared unhappy with the results.

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NELSON: At a bar in the Kreuzberg neighborhood, patrons groaned when they heard on TV that Merkel had scored a resounding victory.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: What is this? It's awful, said one woman in dismay.

Another patron, Clara Rientis, said she'll be happy if Merkel strikes a deal with the Social Democrats.

CLARA RIENTIS: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: She says: Even if Merkel's party dominates, a new coalition is still likely to generate fresh ideas to benefit Germany and Europe.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin.

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