Merkel elected Germanys first woman chancellor

Berlin | Updated: Nov 23 2005, 05:34am hrs
Angela Merkel was elected Germanys first woman chancellor on Tuesday in a parliamentary vote that ends months of uncertainty and ushers in a fragile new government with the task of reviving Europes largest economy.

Merkel, leader of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), won 397 votes in the 614-seat Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, easily securing the majority she needed to become Germanys eighth postwar chancellor and the first to have grown up in the former communist east. Her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder was the first to congratulate a smiling Merkel after parliamentary speaker Norbert Lammert announced the result to a hushed chamber.

Dear Dr Merkel, you are now the first ever elected female head of government in Germany. That is a strong signal for many women, and certainly for some men too, Lammert said to laughter.

Merkel and her cross-party cabinet of conservatives and Social Democrats (SPD) will be sworn in later on Tuesday, formally taking over from the SPD-Greens government that Schroeder has led for the past seven years. Merkels confirmation as chancellor comes two months after her conservatives narrowly beat Schroeders party in a general election she had been expected to win easily.

The result left the 51-year-old pastors daughter with no choice but to form a coalition with her long-time rivals. During tough month-long coalition negotiations, Merkel had to abandon her plans for a shake-up of the German social welfare system.

Her government is vowing to repair relations with Washington, strained by Schroeders opposition to the US-led war in Iraq. It has also promised to revive the economy, once Europes motor but now one of the more sluggish in the 25-nation EU, and cut unemployment that hit postwar highs under Schroeder.

She must hope that the central plank of her coalition program an agreement to bring the budget deficit back within EU borrowing limits by 2007 through higher sales taxes will not hinder growth by cramping consumer spending.

With 397 votes, Merkel won more support in parliament than any previous chancellor, but 51 of the 448 members of parliament from her coalition chose not to support her, leading some politicians to express disappointment.