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Germany Faces Political Stalemate

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Germany faces weeks of uncertainty following yesterday's inconclusive elections. The opposition Christian Democrats led by Angela Merkel failed to win a clear majority. The current chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, says he can form a government and has refused to step down. Now it's all about who can build a coalition first. NPR's Rachel Martin reports from Berlin.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

Germany's federal elections have been all about the big names and the big parties: Gerhard Schroeder and the SPD coming from behind in the campaign to get roughly 34 percent of the vote, just 1 percent less than Angela Merkel and the CDU managed to muster. That left neither party with a majority. So if they want to form a coalition, they have to win alliances with the smaller parties. That means now all attention is on the Free Democrats and the Greens. Guido Westerwelle is the head of the Free Democrats, the traditional allies of the CDU for more than 50 years.

Mr. GUIDO WESTERWELLE (Free Democratic Party): (Through Translator) Angela Merkel has a mandate to govern, forming the biggest faction in the Bundestag. If she invites us to talks, then we'll accept this invitation based on our program for a real political change.

MARTIN: The Green Party, the traditional ally of the Social Democrats, is also accepting invitations for coalition building. Claudia Roth is one of the party leaders. Speaking after a press conference today, she said the Greens are weighing their options.

Ms. CLAUDIA ROTH (Green Party): (Through Translator) We're interested in having a compatible partner in the next government, but we've also said we would be prepared to be in the opposition. This country also needs a strong opposition to protect things like the environment and consumer rights.

MARTIN: Coalition building can be a murky business, and it could take weeks to get results. This wasn't what many Germans had expected. Kurt Hardenwicker(ph) and his wife are visiting Berlin from Cologne. He said the results have put Germany in a standstill.

Mr. KURT HARDENWICKER (Cologne): (Through Translator) We don't know what is going to happen because actually the German people came to no decision at all. There are some who say, yes, we want to change something. But there as many who say we don't want to change anything. We want to leave things where they are.

MARTIN: There are all kinds of political permutations floating around, and parties continue to make proclamations and demands. The SPD, despite its weakened position, says it's determined to stay in control of government, but it won't form a coalition with any party unless Gerhard Schroeder remains chancellor. And Angela Merkel keeps repeating her mantra that it's her party, the CDU, that has a mandate to govern, even though the Christian Democrat vote was 3 percent lower than it was when they lost the last election in 2002. Nels Dietrich(ph) is a professor political sociology at Free University in Berlin. He says even though coalition building appears full of contradictions, it's not going to prevent a functioning government from emerging.

Professor NELS DIETRICH (Free University, Berlin): Maybe we will find a coalition who can govern, or maybe we will have new elections. But in any case, I think it's not a mess but a very normal process in a very stable democracy which will stay stable although we have some problems in finding majority.

MARTIN: Coalition negotiations will continue over the next few weeks, but it's still very unclear just what the next government will look like and who will lead it. Rachel Martin, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.