Merkel eyes center-right as German election nears

Wed Sep 23, 2009 1:15pm EDT
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By Brian Rohan and Noah Barkin

HAMBURG/BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel looks on track to win a second term in a German election on Sunday and may be able to form the center-right government that eluded her four years ago, final polls before the vote showed.

After running an awkward "grand coalition" with her main political rivals, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), since 2005, Germany's first woman chancellor is hoping to team up with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) this time around.

As leader of a center-right government, Merkel has said she would pursue tax cuts and extend the life of nuclear plants that are scheduled to be phased out over the next decade.

Germany is emerging from its deepest recession since World War Two and the next government will have to rein in a surging budget deficit, cope with rising unemployment and confront fragile banks that are paring back lending and threatening the nascent recovery.

On Wednesday, Merkel rejected calls from the SPD for tough spending cuts to consolidate the budget, saying Germany was in no shape to embark on a rigid savings path.

"We should not confuse a stay in a convalescence center with a visit to a weight-loss clinic," she told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper in an interview.

A survey by Forsa for Stern magazine, probably the last to be published before the vote, gave Merkel's conservatives a nine-point lead over the SPD, which would virtually ensure she wins a new four-year term.

The Forsa survey mirrored the other polls released over the past few days in giving Merkel's conservatives and the FDP -- known in Germany as a "black-yellow" coalition because of the party colours -- a parliamentary majority.   Continued...

<p>German Chancellor Angela Merkel waves farewell to the crowd following an election campaign rally in Kassel September 21, 2009. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay</p>