Merkel's future in doubt ahead of German polls

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The Independent Online

Germany's conservatives laid on a mixture of rhythmic African drum music and wild applause to greet their leader. But inside Hamburg's cavernous neon-lit congress hall, Angela Merkel looked grey, exhausted and slightly bored.

The Chancellor had come to rally the party faithful 36 hours ahead of tomorrow's key elections in the port city-state. The poll will launch Germany's so-called "super election year" of nine crucial state elections. Their outcome will decide Ms Merkel's political future.

In Hamburg, Germany's first woman leader, who was born in the city 57 years ago, issued what sounded like a desperate appeal: "You must use all the hours left until the polls close at six on Sunday to keep on campaigning. The city of my birth deserves to be properly governed and only the conservatives can do that."

But Ms Merkel's tired body language seemed only to confirm that she and her party are staring into the jaws of defeat. If yesterday's opinion polls are accurate, Hamburg's ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) – Ms Merkel 's party – are on course to suffer one of their worst defeats.

The conservatives romped home to victory in Hamburg's 2008 elections after winning 42 per cent of the vote. They look set to see their share almost halved tomorrow to around 23 per cent.

By contrast, the city 's opposition Social Democrats are on course to win just under half of the vote. The outcome could give them an absolute majority or a comfortable coalition with the Greens, who, in line with a national trend, are set to win a record 14 per cent. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democrat candidate for mayor, appears to have won over voters by appearing more conservative than the conservatives.

He has campaigned for a return to the tough, business-like approach to government once championed by Germany 's former Social Democrat chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Hamburg's poll will be followed by another key election in the state of Saxony-Anhalt in March, where a coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats is struggling to stay in power. Ms Merkel's party could suffer another drubbing there.

But the main focus of Germany's "super-election year" will be on voting in the south-western state of Baaden-Württemberg on 27 March. There, the CDU faces the disastrous prospect of being ousted from power in the one of the country's wealthiest regions for the first time since the Second World War. The Greens could shatter the monopoly Ms Merkel's party has enjoyed in the south-west because their popularity has shot up to between 20 and 25 per cent in the opinion polls, putting them in a strong position to form a coalition with the Social Democrats.

The big rise in Green popularity in Baaden-Württemberg is mainly due to massive public opposition to a grandiose scheme to redevelop the main station in the state capital, Stuttgart, called "Stuttgart 21".

Political observers predict that if Ms Merkel's party loses the south-west, the Chancellor may be forced to call a snap general election ahead of the next official poll date, slated for October 2013.

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