Opinion: Don′t Underestimate Merkel | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 24.09.2005
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Opinion: Don't Underestimate Merkel

In light of the conservatives' poor showing in German elections, many observers have been skeptical about conservative party leader Angela Merkel's future. But she could still become chancellor, says DW's Ute Thofern.


Will Angie's persistence and level-headedness take her to the top?

He who underestimates Merkel has already lost. That line is infamous in Germany, but was quickly forgotten after Angela Merkel's unexpectedly poor election result. Perhaps too quickly.

The assessment slipped out of Horst Seehofer's mouth after his party, the Bavarian-based CSU, was forced to make compromises in health care policies with Merkel's CDU -- compromises that cost Seehofer dearly.

Die Parteivorsitzende Angela Merkel ist auf einer Videoleinwand zu sehen, bei ihrer Rede zu den Delegierten auf dem CDU-Parteitag in Leipzig

The CSU's health care expert stepped down from his position and has been considered Merkel's most prominent victim ever since. Actually, Seehofer -- intoxicated on the potency of his own power -- shot himself in the foot by taking too heavy a risk as a political heavyweight in the Christian Social Union. So much so that even CSU chief Edmund Stoiber couldn't bail him out.

The bigwig flopped, and Angela "the girl" mutated into Merkel, the male-killing monster.

What a misinterpretation! Angela Merkel doesn't kill off her opponents; she doesn't even plot and scheme. But she can tolerate being underestimated, und she can wait -- for others to make mistakes, for example.

Not about gender

The fact that her alleged victims are usually men has nothing to do with her being a woman. She's not a "typical" woman, but the overwhelmingly male political establishment tends to make the typically male mistake of overestimating their own abilities.

This situation was best exemplified by Gerhard Schröder's television appearance on the evening of the election.

Wahlen Deutschland Fernsehsendung Wahl 05 Die Favoriten

Germany continues to puzzle over what drove him or what he had imbibed to be able to stage such a excessive act of self-indulgence in front of the camera. At the same time, Schröder's performance was presumably calculated: taking the offensive, declaring himself the victor to force "the girl" into a corner and throw her as prey to the men in her party.

It had nothing to do with the rules of democracy. But it was a short-sighted ploy because Merkel didn't fall apart as expected. Instead she used Schröder's attacks to secure the solidarity of the men in her party, which was seriously endangered up till then. Indeed, those in the Christian Union who now take a potshot at Merkel, will be suspected of backing Schröder.

Angela Merkel has been written off many more times than the self-righteous "media chancellor," who threw some hard punches on the evening of the election.

But, the woman can take more than a prize boxer. She is relentlessly logical, adamantly calm, stoically reasonable and unnervingly persistent.

Those are neither female nor male characteristics, but ones with which she can still become chancellor. Heads of government in Germany are not yet established according to the rules of fist fights.

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