Merkel takes over as first woman chancellor

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The Independent Online

Angela Merkel, the daughter of a Protestant pastor in Communist East Germany, has been elected as Germany's first woman chancellor. She takes the helm of a controversial grand coalition government that faces the intractable task of reviving Europe's largest economy.

During a parliamentary session that ended months of uncertainty about Germany's political future, the 51-year-old conservative leader was elected her country's eighth chancellor since the Second World War by 397 votes to 202, with 12 abstentions.

But, in what appeared to be a foretaste of the difficulties that lay ahead for her cross-party government of conservatives and centre-left Social Democrats, 51 MPs in her 448-member grand coalition voted against Ms Merkel in a secret ballot.

Ms Merkel, whose party failed to win a big enough majority to govern on its own or with its preferred coalition partners in Germany's inconclusive general election in September, looked overwhelmed as she was confirmed as chancellor.

Norbert Lammert, Germany's parliamentary president, said her election as the first democratically elected female head of government in Germany sent "a strong signal for women and certainly for some men too", a remark that drew laughter from MPs.

"I accept the outcome of the vote. I feel good," Ms Merkel replied after being congratulated on her election by Gerhard Schröder, the outgoing chancellor. Ms Merkel's political career began 15 years ago when she became spokeswoman for former East Germany's first democratic government. She grew up under Communism and only joined the conservative Christian Democrats after reunification in 1990.

Her election followed months of fraught negotiations between the two main parties over the policies to be adopted by their coalition.

Ms Merkel will set out today on a rapid tour of European capitals that will take her to Paris, Brussels, London and Warsaw.