German parties seek to woo skeptical smaller rivals as post-election maneuvering starts
BERLIN – Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats prodded a small pro-business party Wednesday to consider keeping the German leader in power as maneuvering to form a new government gathered pace following the country’s inconclusive election.Leaders of the Greens, Schroeder’s junior partners in the outgoing government, meanwhile discouraged conservative challenger Angela Merkel, who hopes to woo them into a coalition. But the Greens did grudgingly say they would hold exploratory talks with Merkel’s Christian Democrats.The Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, the two largest parties, are sounding out smaller parties from their rivals’ camps as an alternative to forming a “grand coalition” that would force either Merkel or Schroeder – or perhaps both – to give up their competing claims for the chancellor’s office.Voters ousted Schroeder’s center-left government in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, but Merkel fell far short of winning a majority for a center-right government that would deepen reform of Germany’s sluggish economy. The result left Merkel’s conservatives just three seats ahead of Schroeder’s party, opening the way for protracted posturing and haggling.”There is no hurry,” Social Democratic chairman Franz Muentefering told journalists. “We know that it will take a few days before everyone realizes what a responsibility they have.”That message appeared aimed squarely at the pro-business Free Democrats, who had hoped to become the junior partner in a Merkel-led government that proposed to push through changes to the labor market and tax system.Party leader Guido Westerwelle has rejected an offer to talk with the Social Democrats about joining them and the Greens in a Schroeder-led government, arguing the Free Democrats campaigned on a platform of ousting him.Muentefering said he expected everyone except the new Left Party, an alliance of ex-communists and left-wing defectors from the Social Democrats, to “participate constructively” in efforts to form a government.Muentefering said Schroeder would meet with Merkel’s Christian Democrats on Thursday to sound out the possibility of an alliance – widely viewed as the most likely solution. He dismissed suggestions that might require Schroeder and Merkel to give up being chancellor.The Greens sought to resolve their own dilemma: how to handle advances from the conservatives, their traditional foe. The two sides are to meet Friday.The Greens party is rooted in the protest generation of the 1960s and 1970s. Although it now has strong middle-class support and backs economic reform, the party would find it hard to sell its grass-roots on an alliance with the right.Co-chairman Reinhard Buetikofer said he found it “extraordinarily difficult” to imagine the Greens putting Merkel in the chancellery. He noted the two sides are far apart on energy policy, with Merkel seeking to stall a move championed by the Greens to shut down all of Germany’s nuclear power plants.The Greens, whose most prominent figure is outgoing Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, also back Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, which Merkel opposes. Fischer has indicated he will not seek a party leadership post.The Greens also have a visceral dislike of the anti-tax Free Democrats who, Greens co-chairwoman Claudia Roth said, would have to “reinvent themselves to a large extent” if the two parties were to join in any alliance.Parliament must meet by Oct. 18. If a new chancellor fails to secure a majority in three rounds of voting, President Horst Koehler can appoint a minority government.That raises the prospect of an unstable government – and another election before parliament’s four-year term is up.Vail, Colorado
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