Crumbling Coalition Germans Anticipate a Collapse of Merkel's Government

Pundits think that Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is in trouble. A new survey has found that German citizens agree. Almost two-thirds think that the governing coalition in Berlin will not survive much longer.

Many in Germany think that Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition is in trouble. Here, the Chancellery in Berlin.

Many in Germany think that Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition is in trouble. Here, the Chancellery in Berlin.

Commentators and pundits in Germany were unanimous: Wednesday's laborious election of Christian Wulff as the country's new president was anything but helpful for Chancellor Angela Merkel's already ailing coalition. A survey conducted by Infratest dimap seems to indicate that voters agree.

According to the poll, commissioned by public television station ARD, fully 68 percent of Germans believe that the election was a "disgrace" for Merkel and 77 percent feel that she no longer has complete control over her own governing coalition. Sixty-two percent believe that Merkel's government, which pairs her conservatives with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), will not survive much longer.

Wednesday's vote highlighted the deep fractures in Merkel's governing coalition after her hand-picked candidate Wulff required three rounds of voting to get elected, despite her government having a sizeable majority in the Federal Assembly, the 1,244-member body that chooses Germany's president. In the first round, 44 coalition delegates refused to back the chancellor's candidate; in the second, 29 balked. He was finally elected in a third round of voting.

Nine Months of Bickering

The election had been billed as a test of Merkel's authority. The disappointing results in the first two rounds have been seen as a clear message that many are extremely dissatisfied with the almost nine months of bickering which have characterized Merkel's government since it was sworn in last October.

Still, despite the frustration with Merkel's leadership, the survey seemed to indicate that Wulff escaped Wednesday's debacle relatively unscathed. Prior to the election, many had compared the career Christian Democrat unfavorably with his competitor, the former East German civil rights activist Joachim Gauck. Now, however, 72 percent think Wulff will be a good president and 80 percent feel that he will do a good job representing Germany internationally.

The position of German president is almost exclusively a ceremonial one though is seen as a valuable moral compass. Wulff will be sworn in as the Federal Republic's 10th president on Friday.

Merkel and her government have been at pains to sell Wulff's election as a victory for the coalition. In the third round of elections on Wednesday, after a nine-hour session of the Federal Assembly, Merkel's candidate finally received the absolute majority that he had been denied in the first two rounds. "There is a very large majority behind Christian Wulff," Merkel said immediately following his election.

Not Optimistic

On Thursday, a whole series of senior coalition politicians sought to assure the German public that they have learned their lessons from the Wednesday vote. The coalition, said FDP head Guido Westerwelle, who is also Merkel's vice chancellor, "must begin solving problems." Merkel said it is time "that the government does its work."

The public, though, has heard it all before. The bumpy election of Wulff was not the first time this coalition has tripped itself up. Merkel's government has addressed a whole slew of issues in the last nine months -- including health care reform, tax reform, nuclear reactor lifespans and mandatory conscription, to name a few -- and found convincing solutions to none of them.

German voters are not optimistic that such a track record can be changed. Only 31 percent of Germans, according to Thursday's survey, believe that Merkel's coalition can right the ship.

cgh -- with wire reports


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