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German election mandate still in question
Updated: 2005-09-19 09:30

Conservative challenger Angela Merkel's party won the most votes in German elections Sunday but fell short of a clear mandate to govern, according to official results. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder staged a dramatic comeback and proclaimed that he should head the next government.

A combination photo shows German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) as they react after first exit polls in the Germany's general election at party headquarters in Berlin September 18, 2005. Merkel's conservatives were the leading party in Sunday's German election but her centre-right alliance lacks a parliamentary majority, exit polls indicated as voting ended in Sunday's election. [Reuters]

The inconclusive result made it likely that Germany's next government would be weakened because of the narrow vote margin and difficulties in forming a coalition.

If Merkel is to become Germany's first female chancellor, she now must find a majority in a coalition that would likely force her to water down finance reform plans. And such a deal might also lead to a dampening of her strong opposition to Turkish membership of the European Union.

The vote centered on different visions of Germany's role in the world and how to fix its sputtering economy. Schroeder touted the country's role as a European leader and counterbalance to America, while Merkel pledged to reform the economy and strengthen relations with Washington.

With 298 of 299 districts declaring, the results showed Merkel's Christian Democrats party leading with 35.2 percent of the vote compared to 34.3 percent for Schroeder's Social Democrats. Voting in the final district, Dresden, was delayed until Oct. 2 because of the death of a candidate. But that outcome was not expected to affect the final result.

The outcome gave Merkel's party 225 seats, three more than the Social Democrats; the Free Democrats got 61, the Left Party 54 and the Greens 51.

Merkel's preferred coalition partners — the pro-business Free Democrats — had 9.8 percent, leaving such an alliance short of outright victory. The Greens, the Social Democrats' current governing partner, had 8.1 percent; together, the two parties failed to reach a majority, heralding the end of Schroeder's seven-year-old government.

The Left Party had 8.7 percent of the vote, but Schroeder said he would not work with them. The overall election turnout was 77.7 percent.
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