German Election Results Remain Unclear

The balance of power in Germany is very much in question two weeks after a national vote. Who will be the next chancellor? Which parties will form a governing coalition? A postponed election in Dresden may offer some answers.

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Though German elections were two weeks ago, the city of Dresden had to postpone polling because of a candidate's death. A win for opposition Christian Democrats in Dresden tomorrow could speed up their attempts to form a new government and hasten the exit of the Social Democrats and Gerhard Schroeder, as NPR's Rachel Martin reports from Berlin.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

The campaign posters in Dresden are beginning to look a bit worn and bedraggled, and so are the candidates. And yet they press on in what has become a symbolic final battlefield in Germany's federal election.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: The candidate for the Christian Democrats here, Andreas Lammel, addresses a few dozen party faithful in the cellar of a local jazz bar.

Mr. ANDREAS LAMMEL (Christian Democrat Candidate): (German spoken)

MARTIN: Lammel is widely expected to win the Dresden seat. That's not enough to change the result of the national election, but it would give the CDU more ammunition in their campaign to form the government. Angela Merkel's party won the most votes on September 18th, but it was only 1 percent more than the Social Democrats, and they did not have enough seats in parliament to form a government. Sebastian Kieslich is a CDU member from Dresden. He says the inconclusive result was surprising.

Mr. SEBASTIAN KIESLICH (Christian Democrats): (Through Translator) It was a situation we hadn't expected because it's a draw with no clear majority. That shows the insecurity of the Germans. They don't know exactly what they want. They know we need reform, but people are afraid of reform.

MARTIN: The economy was the big issue in this election, primarily what to do about the roughly five million unemployed in Germany, but neither party was able to persuade a majority of German voters that they have the answer. That hasn't stopped both Angela Merkel and Gerhard Schroeder from claiming victory. The past week has been filled with bitter politicking about which parties will form a coalition government and who will lead it. Dresden voters, like 39-year-old Kathrin Thiel, say they're disappointed with the parties' inability to compromise.

Ms. KATHRIN THIEL (Dresden Voter): (Through Translator) I don't like this at all. In the end, nothing will come out of it, nothing concrete has been said. It's all been just talk with nothing to back it up. I would say it's time for Schroeder to step down because the trust is gone.

MARTIN: Although Gerhard Schroeder staged a surprising political comeback two weeks ago, his determination to keep his job and his attacks on Angela Merkel have cost him public support. Up till now, the Social Democrats have said they will not join a grand coalition with the CDU unless Schroeder stays chancellor. But some people think the party is waiting for him to gracefully bow out. Gernot Erler is the deputy leader of the SPD in parliament.

Mr. GERNOT ERLER (Social Democrats): We have given him all our trust to decide this by himself in the way of the talks with the other colleagues from the Christian Democratic Party, and so it is up to him to decide all the personal questions, including the question of the federal chancellor.

MARTIN: The results of the Dresden election are expected by late Sunday evening. Coalition talks between the SPD and the Christian Democrats will continue next week.

Rachel Martin, NPR News Berlin.

WERTHEIMER: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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