Merkel launches re-election bid with show of party unity

Tue Dec 4, 2012 7:55am EST
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By Stephen Brown and Noah Barkin

HANOVER, Germany (Reuters) - Angela Merkel launched her re-election campaign on Tuesday at the height of her popularity, with a speech to a congress of her conservative Christian Democrats that showed off the party unity she will need to prevail in next year's vote.

Delegates stood and applauded for eight minutes after Merkel told them they were the only party that could steer Germany through the "stormy waters" of economic crisis and geo-political change.

With approval ratings near 70 percent, the 58-year-old chancellor struck a triumphant tone at the party congress in Hanover, repeating that hers was the "most successful government" since German reunification in 1990.

"These are turbulent times and sometimes we find ourselves in stormy waters. But it is the German CDU that has the clear direction to steer our country through these seas," Merkel said.

Merkel, a physicist from East Germany who has become a towering figure in a traditionally West German party, wants to beat the score of just over 90-percent of votes by which she was last re-elected as party chairman two years ago.

Often criticized abroad but feted at home for defending her country's interests in the euro crisis, Merkel has a good shot at winning a third term next September despite a sharp slide in support for her current coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

"Maybe God created the FDP just to test us," she said in a rare public dig at the party which polls show could fail to make the 5 percent mark next year that it needs to remain in the Bundestag lower house.

This may force her to consider other options like reviving the "grand coalition" with the Social Democrats (SPD) she ran between 2005 and 2009, or trying an unprecedented alliance with the Greens.   Continued...

German Chancellor and leader of Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Angela Merkel acknowledges the applause of the delegates after her speech at the CDU's annual party meeting in Hanover, December 4, 2012. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach