German Chancellor Angela Merkel has swept the votes at her party's annual conference, winning the party chair for the seventh time. She now stands poised to begin her national campaign for re-election in 2013.
Members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) gave Chancellor Merkel 97.94 percent of the vote during Tuesday's election in Hanover, her best results yet. Merkel has led the CDU since 2000.
The results at the annual party conference were the gateway to the 2013 federal elections, where Chancellor Merkel is set to run against center-left Social Democrat opponent Peer Steinbrück. The Greens have nominated members Jürgen Trittin and Katrin Goering-Eckardt to run on a twin ticket next year.
Several hours prior to Tuesday's party vote, Chancellor Merkel gave a one hour speech, reaffirming her confidence in a CDU government to lead Germany, calling her government "the most successful since German reunification." Domestic economic successes amid the so-called eurozone debt crisis were evidence of this, she said.
"In these times no other coalition could lead our country into a good future as ours could, the Christian-liberal coalition," Merkel said at the party conference in the northern city of Hanover.
Much of her speech might as easily have been aimed not at her Christian Democratic Union, the CDU and Bavaria's CSU, but at her junior coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP). After a bumper general election in 2009, the best in the party's history, the FDP has crashed in the opinion polls – casting its suitability as a coalition partner into serious doubt.
Merkel told the delegates that she believed their party and the FDP still shared "the greatest similarities" of any potential constellation.
"Our coalition partners need to raise their game, so that we can make it," Merkel said.
The CDU is currently polling at around 40 percent, making it easily the most popular single party in the country, while the FDP is only at the 4-percent mark; together, they would not currently hit the required simple majority. The two main opposition parties, the Social Democrats and the Greens, poll more strongly when combined.
Combative as well as conciliatory
With the national vote topping the agenda, Merkel also took aim at the center-left Social Democrats, saying Germany's continued economic growth and improved employment figures might be in danger with a change of governance.
"An increase in income tax and flat rate tax, an introduction of a wealth tax, the Social Democrats' program is a program that endangers the middle class," Merkel said.
The chancellor was similarly bullish towards business and the financial sector, again calling for progress on gender equality and regulation for the financial markets.
"My patience on this topic is running out," Merkel said on the issue of gender quotas in the boardroom, where her government has been reticent to set fixed legal limits. "I want to finally see results. Companies need to deliver; they cannot exploit the good faith we have extended them."
The 58-year-old party chair, who is all-but certain to be re-elected to the position at the conference, said she would continue pushing for greater regulation of the financial markets and a financial transaction tax - suggestions that have been especially coolly received in London and New York.
"It won't help if only Europe acts," Merkel said, saying that only global measures would regulate a sector whose "irresponsibility" had been unearthed in the years since the so-called financial crisis.
kms,msh/hc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
As the Winter Paralympics begin in Sochi, Russian activists are hoping the Games will help combat widespread prejudice. They say people with disabilities have been marginalized in Russia for decades.
Germany have beaten Chile 1-0 in Stuttgart, in a game that the home side can count themselves fortunate to win. The South Americans, who might have easily had a draw, or more, just couldn't put the ball away.