Dull Merkel plods towards triumph

Despite a lack of campaign excitement, more than three out of four Germans back her

Her campaign team had clearly hoped to elicit at least a tiny hint of Merkel mania from the crowd of east Germans at the election rally: young conservatives punched the air with orange "Angie" cards every time Angela Merkel made a point in her speech. Others handed around flattering glossy photographs of the country's first woman leader.

However the gathering of about 1,500 people who turned out to witness Chancellor Angela Merkel, in the market town of Finsterwalde outside Berlin days before Germany's general election was having nothing of it.

The most the crowd could offer was the occasional polite ripple of applause as 55-year-old Merkel waded through an uninspiring speech peppered with references to Konrad Adenauer, Germany's first post-war conservative Chancellor, and her party's role in helping to bring about the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Passion broke her otherwise near-deadpan delivery only once – when she spoke about the "greed" of international bankers who had plunged Germany and the rest of the world into the worst financial crisis since the Depression.

The Chancellor's loudest supporters were a group of middle-aged East German women, who clapped ostentatiously when she finished speaking. "We all admire her so, she's one of us," said one. Two students in their twenties, who had travelled to the town for the afternoon said they had come just to see "Merkel in the flesh".

With only six days to go before the German election, Merkel is relying less on her notoriously-dull performances at campaign rallies than on the public image she has carved out for herself during her four years as Chancellor. With her unassuming style, lack of pretension and her abilities as a mediator in her own government and on the wider political scene, she has become the Chancellor most Germans seem to want.

An opinion published yesterday by Der Spiegel magazine, showed that a staggering 76 per cent of Germans wanted Merkel to play an important role in politics in future, a rating which makes her one of the most popular German leaders since World War Two.

Conservative party placards now filling the streets of German cities simply display a massive billboard sized photograph of Merkel and the words Die Kanzlerin – the Chancellor.

If anything the recession has played into Merkel's hands. Her government's car scrappage scheme is regarded as having saved the German car industry as has its support for the ailing car giant Opel. In the run up to next Sunday's poll, she has been able to portray herself as a leader engaged in a worthy battle to bring international finance to heel.

With her Social Democrat opponents under Frank Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister, lagging 10 points behind in the opinion polls, nobody seriously doubts that Merkel will remain Chancellor after next Sunday's election. The main question that remains unanswered is which parties will be in the government she leads.

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