Germany votes amid terror videos, job fears

Center-left Social Democrat leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier votes in Berlin on Sunday.
Germans went to the polls Sunday in the face of threatening videos from al Qaeda and the Taliban warning them not to vote for leaders who want to keep the country’s troops in Afghanistan.

Security was tightened at airports and train stations, and authorities on Saturday banned all flights over the Oktoberfest beer festival until it ends on October 4. The annual event attracts about 6 million people. Chancellor Angela Merkel is fighting for another four-year term amid concerns about economic recovery and job security. The main challenger for Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s center-left Social Democrats. The two parties are currently in a coalition, with Steinmeier serving as Merkel’s foreign minister. Few doubt that Merkel’s party will win the most votes. The question is what kind of coalition will be formed — another broad centrist one, across the political divide, or a more right-leaning one. What’s at stake in the German election Merkel favors cutting taxes to spur growth, while Steinmeier opposes tax breaks. The country is deep in debt. Voters will choose members of the lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, who will pick the head of government. Each German will have two votes — one for a member of parliament representing a district and another for a political party. About 62 million people are eligible to vote, out of Germany’s population of 82 million.

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Polls indicate the CDU and FDP could gain a razor thin majority to form a governing coalition. Recent polls put their combined tally at around 48 percent. That is not exactly a large majority, but it’s two percent more than the left of center parties, the Social Democrats, the Green Party, and the left wing “Die Linke,” who would reach about 46 percent if polls are accurate. The Liberal Democrats have been in opposition since 1998 and at a rally in Berlin, their leader Guido Westerwelle was sure his time has come. “I think the voters won’t allow a coalition of the left to be in power. I think they want a conservative government and they will vote to put us in power,” he said. Westerwelle is eyeing the post of foreign minister under a future Merkel government. A government of CDU and FDP, conservatives and liberal would probably be more business friendly than the current grand coalition.

Both the CDU and FDP want to cut taxes to further jumpstart Europe’s largest economy which emerged from its deepest recession only a few months ago. But even optimistic economists believe cutting taxes will be all but impossible for a government which will inherit the largest public deficit in German history after the current government was forced to ruin in its public finances to bail out banks and industrial companies in the wake of the international financial crisis.