Skip to comments.Schröder faces humiliation at polls (HOLD MEIN BIER!)
Posted on 02/01/2003 4:06:00 PM PST by MadIvan
IT SHOULD have been about class sizes, jobs and the other minutiae of local politics, but Gerhard Schröder could not resist the I-word. As supporters of Germanys ruling Social Democrats gathered for one of the last rallies before elections today in his home state of Lower Saxony, the chancellor just wanted to talk about Iraq.
I will never give up hope that the conflict in and around Iraq can be solved with peaceful means, he told the crowd. We must give the weapons inspectors in Iraq the time they want and need to establish what is really happening.
It will take more than Saddam Hussein to save Schröder, however, as he heads for his most humiliating setback since he came to power 4½ years ago. The Social Democrats (SPD) narrowly re-elected in September, largely on their anti-war platform face certain defeat today in state polls in the southwestern state of Hesse as well as in Lower Saxony.
This would allow the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the chancellors right-wing opponents, to take control of the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament, obliging him to embark on a German version of cohabitation the uneasy coexistence between political rivals that hobbled French politics until President Jacques Chiracs crushing election victory last year.
Despite Schröders efforts to turn voters attention towards Baghdad rather than Berlin, the German elections are about his governments dismal performance, highlighted by a series of deeply unpopular tax rises and by unemployment figures expected to hit a new high of 4.6m this week.
Sigmar Gabriel, 43, a chubby former teacher who became premier of Lower Saxony in 1999, has fought a spirited campaign for the SPD. During a final television duel he appeared far more self-assured than Christian Wulff, also 43, his bookish CDU rival.
Wulff, beaten twice to the state premiership by Schröder, is assured of revenge. Voters appear desperate for change after 13 years of Social Democrat rule that has left the state lagging behind the rest of western Germany.
Polls last week showed the CDU leading the Social Democrats by 48% to 33%, preparing the way for Wulff to form a coalition with the centrist Free Democratic party (FDP). Last-minute attempts by Gabriel to distance himself from his mentor look unlikely to save him.
Hesse gives Schröder little cause for optimism. Roland Koch, the CDU state premier, who has headed a coalition with the FDP there since 1999, seems certain to increase his share of the vote. Polls suggest he could win 51%, compared with the SPDs projected 29%, allowing his party to rule alone.
For Schröder, todays elections are not just about almost certain ignominy in his home territory. He will be more concerned about losing control of the Bundesrat.
The chamber, composed of representatives of Germanys 16 states, is almost evenly split at present; victory for Wulff could give his party 41 of the 69 seats, obliging the government to strike compromises with the CDU on its economic reforms.
Far from leading to legislative gridlock, however, this could force Schröder to introduce painful reforms that economists say are needed in a country that has long been living beyond its means.
The first signs of a new, more pragmatic Schröder were seen last week when Wolfgang Clement, the economics and labour minister, unveiled plans to cut unemployment benefits and make it easier for small firms to lay workers off.
The government faces a battle in coming weeks over more labour reforms and plans to restructure the health service. Traditionalists on the SPDs left are unhappy and the partys powerful trade union supporters could present a challenge.
Public sector workers are threatening a winter of discontent and Michael Sommer, leader of the DGB, Germanys TUC, has warned Schröder of a new ice age. Dealing with the issue of Iraq could be a pushover by comparison.
WHAT IN TARNATION IS THAT RED DOT ON HIS HEAD?
Well, that will certainly be a blessing. Sure wish it could be sooner.
And it will take more than Schroder to save Saddam!
Ellen RATner to one of her relatives....
A hole of course!
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