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Germany

Merkel Disappointed by Bavarian Ally's Drubbing at Polls

Chancellor Merkel says her governing conservatives must focus on the economy, jobs and education in the wake of a massive loss for her allies in Bavaria that could hurt her bid for re-election in polls next year.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Merkel's expression spoke volumes about the mood in Germany's conservative camp

A day after her Bavarian ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU) lost their absolute majority it had held in Bavaria's state assembly for nearly half a century, Chancellor Merkel said she would try harder to win back voters, stressing the economy, creating jobs, education and integrating minorities in her campaign.

"We'll offer Germans a vision of the future and steadiness amid globalization," the chancellor said in Berlin on Monday, Sept 29.

CSU loss could hurt Merkel's re-election

Voters in Bavaria on Sunday turned their backs on the CSU in large numbers, handing big gains to smaller parties.

The CSU polled just 43.4 per cent of the vote in its worst showing in half a century. After more than 40 years of solo rule, it will have to embrace one of the minor parties as a coalition partner to retain power.

The Munich-based respected daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung called the conservatives' drubbing "an unparalleled humiliation."

Merkel, center, with Bavaria's Premier Beckstein, right, and CSU leader Huber

In mourning -- Merkel, center, with Bavaria's Premier Beckstein, right, and CSU leader Huber

Analysts said the drubbing had to do with the conservative party's lack of vision in Bavaria and the compromises it has made on a national level as part of Merkel's uneasy "grand coalition" with the Social Democrats in Berlin. The Social Democrats, however, were unable to capitalize on the conservatives' misery and slipped one point to 18.6 percent.

The Bavarian election result has alarmed Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) as the chancellor struggles to win re-election next year.

Merkel's CDU does not operate in Bavaria. The CSU's federal legislators form a single bloc with the CDU in Berlin and are crucial to her hold on power.

Tensions among CDU and CSU

Amid calls from CSU stalwarts for heads to roll, the Bavarian party announced a party congress would be held on October 25.

Party chairman Erwin Huber said it would enable "self criticism" of where the party went wrong. He termed the poll outcome a rebuke, but was tight-lipped about whether or not he would stand down.

As analysts predicted that the CDU and CSU would have to adopt a harder political edge to attract centre-right voters at Germany's general election next year, Merkel said the CSU had failed to win confidence in Bavaria that it was entitled to rule alone.

Merkel's critics have suggested that her steady-as-we-go approach has failed to inspire voters, especially when the CDU has had to soft-pedal its usual centre-right policies to avoid upsetting the Social Democrats (SPD), the other coalition party.

Huber attacked Merkel over her refusal to endorse CSU proposals for tax rebates, saying, "We wish the CDU had supported us more."

Despite pressure by some senior CDU figures to end the federal grand coalition now, Merkel said her government would stay in place until the election, which is scheduled for September 27, 2009.

The SPD polled 18.6 per cent in Bavaria, a decline of 1 percentage point from the last state election in 2003, as voters forsook both big parties for smaller rivals.

Huber said the CSU would invite the small Free Democrat Party, which gained 8 per cent of the vote, or the Free Voters, a conservative party with 10.2 per cent, into a coalition.

Guenther Beckstein, the CSU premier of mainly Catholic Bavaria, said Monday he would insist that the future state coalition put a focus on traditional values including patriotism and social conservatism.