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Germany

German Poll Reaches Finale in Dresden

German Chancellor Schröder and his conservative rival Merkel are back on the campaign trail Friday ahead of a delayed vote in Dresden on the weekend which will complete the inconclusive general election.

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Making their final push: Schröder and Merkel

Around 220,000 voters will go to the polls on Sunday to cast their votes and decide the final seats in the Bundestag or lower house of parliament.

Voting in Dresden was delayed for two weeks by the death of a neo-Nazi candidate during the election campaign.

Both German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his conservative challenger, Angela Merkel hit the campaign trail in the eastern city, south of Berlin, on Friday.

Merkel is set to address supporters along with Dresden's Premier Georg Milbradt in the city's old quarter, while Schröder will rally supporters together with leader of the Social Democrats' Franz Müntefering in a beer garden on the banks of the river Elbe.

Dresden won't tip the balance

Yet Sunday's results will not change the overall picture from the general election on Sept. 18, which produced a narrow three-seat advantage for Merkel's Christian Democrats over the Social Democrats which fell well short of what was required for a governing majority.

Yet the election could have a psychological impact on the intense negotiations to come before a new government is formed.

Although three seats are at stake, the Christian Democrats can at worst only lose one seat because of the complex German electoral system which is a mixture of the majority and proportional systems.

Symbolbild Koalition SPD CDU

However, some believe that the delayed vote in Dresden, two weeks after general elections in the rest of the country, may still speed up the process of forming a coalition -- most likely a "grand coalition" between the SPD and the conservatives.

Chancellor issue plagues talks

Wettbewerb im Sieger-Dasein

Merkel and Schröder both still claim the chancellorship

But a chief stumbling block is the insistence of both Schröder and Merkel that they should be chancellor. Schröder claims he still has a mandate for a third term as chancellor, but Merkel said her alliance won the election and therefore she should govern.

"The biggest political party in a coalition has the prerogative to put forward a chancellor," Merkel said in an interview with Friday's edition of the Sächsische Zeitung newspaper which covers the Dresden area.

Merkel added that the negotiations to form a grand coalition -- and the horse-trading of ministerial posts that involves -- would only begin once a decision had been made on who will be chancellor.

Schröder however told the same newspaper that the chancellery issue should form part of the negotiations.

"We cannot say that the negotiations will only begin once we have made concessions," he said.

The Social Democrats meanwhile poured cold water on claims from the conservatives that Schröder would stand aside after the voting in Dresden.

Franz Müntefering, the leader of the Social Democrats, said on Thursday: "There is nothing in this. Our demand remains the same: We want to govern with Gerhard Schröder as chancellor."

Calls for Schröder to step down

Yet, Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the free-market liberal FDP, the conservatives' real preferred coalition partner, said he "fully expected" that Schröder would step aside following the Dresden vote.

"I assume that will be the occasion for Schröder to make way," Westerwelle said.

And Michael Glos, a leading member of the Christian Social Union, the Christian Democrats' sister party in Bavaria, said he also expected Schröder would step down on Monday.

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