Merkel Ahead in Germany; Rivals Embarrassed

By: Geir Moulson AP
By: Geir Moulson AP

BERLIN (AP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives were headed for a center-right majority and her center-left rivals for a historically heavy defeat Sunday in European Parliament elections, according to projections.

The strong showing for Merkel's party comes less than four months before Germany holds a national vote.

Merkel's Democratic Union and its Bavaria-only sister, the Christian Social Union, won just over 38 percent of the EU parliament vote, according to projections by ARD and ZDF public television stations based on exit polls and early vote counting.

They showed the Social Democrats of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier - Merkel's challenger in Sept. 27 national elections - scoring 21.3 percent at most.

If that figure holds, it would be the Social Democrats' worst showing since World War II in a nationwide election. Their previous worst was the 21.5 percent they scored in the 2004 European vote.

Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democrats govern Germany in a tense "grand coalition" of the biggest parties that both hope to end in September.

Merkel's preferred future coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrats, scored more than 10 percent, the projections showed - a solid gain from the 6.1 percent they won five years ago.

"We can build on this result for the German parliamentary election," said Ronald Pofalla, general secretary of Merkel's party. "People have confidence in Angela Merkel and the (Christian Democratic) Union in the crisis."

The Greens - who once governed Germany in coalition with the Social Democrats - were seen winning up to 12 percent of the vote, around the same as 2004. Support for the opposition Left Party was seen at up to 7.5 percent.

Germany has 99 seats in the EU's 736-seat parliament.

Merkel's conservatives had been expected to fall short of the 44.5 percent they won five years ago, but the Social Democrats had been expected to make at least some gains.

The Social Democrats' leaders conceded that they had failed to mobilize their supporters and that the result was much worse than they had expected.

"This is a disappointing election result - there's no talking around it," Steinmeier told ARD.

His party's strong push for the government-backed rescue of General Motors Corp.'s Opel unit, and its sympathy for government aid for other struggling companies, did not appear to impress voters.

Steinmeier, however, felt results in Germany's own national election will be better.

"In the German parliamentary election, almost twice as many people (will go) to the polls and the result will be different," Steinmeier insisted.


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