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Election eve: Merkel, Steinbrück lobby undecided voters

The main candidates in Sunday's German election have made final appeals to undecided voters. Chancellor Angela Merkel lobbied in Berlin while Social Democrat rival Peer Steinbrück campaigned in Frankfurt.

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German candidates in final push

Germany's election outcome remained unpredictable on election eve Saturday, with polls showing Merkel's coalition allies the pro-business Free Democrats hovering at the 5 percent threshold for parliamentary representation.

Speculation continued that Merkel's conservatives could end up forming a grand coalition with the center-left opposition Social Democrats (SPD) headed by Steinbrück, who himself favors the Greens. Pre-election surveys put Merkel's conservatives 13 percent ahead of the SPD.

Merkel defends EU

Merkel on Saturday addressed 4,000 of her conservative supporters in Berlin, telling them she needed a "strong mandate," before heading to the Baltic Sea port city of Stralsund to appeal to voters in her home electorate.

Before departing Berlin, she said she wanted to continue leading Europe's biggest economy as "your chancellor for another four years." She spent half of her speech defending the European Union.

"In the coming years we must keeping working for the success of this wonderful continent," she said to loud applause.

She also acknowledged that "lots of people won't make up their mind until the last minute."

"Yes, it will be close," Merkel later told a crowd of 2,000 in Stralsund, referring to the race for the 598-seat federal parliament, the Bundestag.

Steinbrück highlights social imbalance

Visiting Frankfurt on his final campaign day, Steinbrück answered voters' questions on his calls for a standard minimum wage and his accusations that under Merkel Germany has witnessed a worsening gap between rich and poor.

He echoed Merkel in defending the euro against euroskeptics, but slammed Merkel's governance of the past four years.

"You can get rid of the most backward-looking, least capable, most loud-mouthed German government since reunification," Steinbrück said.

Between 2005 and 2009, Steinbrück served as SPD finance minister in a Merkel-led grand coalition. Welfare and labor market changes cost the SPD millions of voters in 2009, when Merkel won and sided with the FDP.

He spoke as electioneering also continued in Germany's commercial center for a parallel election on Sunday to pick the next assembly of the surrounding regional state Hesse. Its assembly is located in Wiesbaden.

Poll 'not decided,' say Greens

Greens' leading candidate, Katrin Göring Eckardt told a rally in Berlin late Friday that despite declining survey results Sunday's election outcome was "still absolutely not decided."

Her co-lead-candidate Jürgen Trittin said the Greens were aiming for a better result than the 10.7 percent garnered in Germany's 2009 federal election.

Unknowns remain

Berlin Free University political scientist Gero Neugebauer said doubts remained about a continuation of Merkel's existing coalition, comprising her Christian Democrats (CDU), Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) and the liberal FDP.

Two new surveys published Friday placed Merkel's existing coalition in a dead heat at 45 to 45 percent, facing - mathematically at least - a center-left array of SPD, Greens and the Left. Pre-election surveys have, however, also shown up to a third of voters undecided.

On their own, Merkel's CDU and Bavarian CSU allies could amass 40 percent, according to surveys. The opposition SPD is on about 26 percent and its preferred partner the Greens on nine percent. The Left is also put at 9 percent.

The FDP, stung by 3.3 percent and its regional assembly exit in Bavaria's state election last weekend, has spend the final week urging voters nationwide to "split" their ballot by casting constituency vote for Merkel but donate their second or party "list-vote" to keep the liberals in the federal parliament.

Merkel and other senior conservatives have dismissed the liberal's tactical move, urging instead that conservatives vote for Merkel and her CDU/CSU alliance.

Bavaria's Seehofer slams FDP campaign

Bavarian leader Horst Seehofer, whose CSU savored 47.7 percent in last Sunday's southern election, demanded on Saturday that the FDP drop its second "list-vote" campaign.

Undeterred, Foreign Minister and former FDP leader Guido Westerwelle lobbied conservatives to donate their second votes during a FDP rally in Düsseldorf.

Lying in surveys under the 5-percent hurdle are the once-prominent Internet-savvy Pirates and the new euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) on 4 percent.

Sunday's election involves 61.8 million registered voters holding German nationality and a total of 34 parties. Among them are 3 million first-time voters who have turned 18 since the last general election in 2009.

ipj/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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