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Angela Merkel Gets Second Term, This Time With FDP

PTI 28 Sep 2009, 9:48:11 AM IST

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday set about laying the groundwork for her new, centre-right coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats after German voters returned her to office for a second term in Sunday's general election.

Merkel was to hold meetings on Monday with leaders of her Christian Democratic Party, to prepare for upcoming coalition talks with the pro-business Free Democrats, whose leader Guido Westerwelle is widely expected to be tapped as her deputy and foreign minister. 

Merkel, 55, had said she would hold "swift and decisive" coalition talks with Westerwelle.  Merkel's CDU and its Bavaria-only sister, the Christian Social Union, won 33.8 percent of the vote and the Free Democrats captured 14.6 percent - together enough to ensure a majority in parliament.  Merkel's former partner in the uneasy "grand coalition", the Social Democrats, took 23 percent.

The Left Party had 11.9 percent and the Greens 10.7 percent.

The result gave the conservatives 239 seats and the Free Democrats 93 in the lower house - for a comfortable centre-right majority of 332 seats to 290.

The Social Democrats won 146, the Left Party 76 and the Greens 68.  The result was seen as a positive one by political analyst Nils Diederich, of Berlin's Freie University.

He said on Monday that voters had "decided clearly for one direction, the conservative-liberal direction".

 "It is positive for the political hygiene that we have a clear majority and an opposition as well", he said.  The new centre-right government is expected to lower taxes in an effort to spur growth and create jobs.  Germany's economy - Europe's largest - has been badly hit by the downturn. 

Though it returned to modest growth in the second quarter and business confidence is rising, gross domestic product is still expected to shrink by 5 percent or more this year - easily the worst performance since World War II.

That is expected to create hurdles for the next government because a rising budget deficit bloated by stimulus spending during the crisis will make it harder to deliver the promised tax cuts.

Among the thorniest issues that face the new government is its participation in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

 In the weeks ahead of the election, extremists from al-Qaida and the Taliban both issued messages aimed at Germany, including threats of retaliation if they did not withdraw their 4,200 troops.