Schroeder Takes Heat for Election Defeat
Mon Feb 3, 2:48 PM ET
By COLLEEN BARRY, Associated Press Writer
BERLIN - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder accepted personal responsibility Monday for two stunning state election defeats for his party — including in his native Lower Saxony — acknowledging the strong rebuke of his government's performance on economic and labor reforms.
Social Democrats Crushed In Germany
The Social Democrats suffered the worst electoral losses since 1945 in Hesse and Lower Saxony states, with voters delivering a clear message of discontent with the first 100 days of Schroeder's second term.
"The government — and I include myself — bear the central responsibility for this defeat," Schroeder told reporters.
The chancellor rejected the possibility of major shake-ups at the national level, new political alliances and even his own resignation, saying, "I'm not thinking about it, and others are not thinking about it."
In an attempt to regain voter confidence, Schroeder pledged to speed labor, health and pension reforms. He said the government had done a bad job explaining its reform agenda.
Schroeder also appealed for cooperation from a reinvigorated Christian Democratic Union, which won control of the Hesse legislature and grabbed the statehouse in Hanover, where Schroeder governed for eight years and still has a home.
A downcast Schroeder called the result in his home state, which in national elections in September sided resoundingly with the Social Democrats, "one of the most bitter defeats."
The Christian Democrats also increased their majority in the upper house of parliament, which must approve major legislation. The leader of the conservatives, Angela Merkel, has promised not to block reforms, but has indicated she expects close consultations.
With voters focused on Germany's economic malaise and disillusioned by new taxes sprung on them just after Schroeder's re-election, the chancellor was unable appeal to the anti-war mood that helped him to a narrow win in national elections four months ago.
Schroeder said his opposition to war with Iraq remained unchanged. But the stance will be put to the test this week when Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) offers new evidence of Iraqi weapons programs to the U.N. Security Council, which Germany chairs.
Schroeder, who has ruled out German participation in a war against Iraq, campaigned saying Germany would refuse to back any war authorization in the Security Council.
Stifled by fears of being labeled warmongers during the campaign, the conservatives struck a new tone in the debate on Germany's position on war with Iraq and pledged serious efforts at repairing the damage to relations with the United States. Merkel plans to travel to New York and Washington later this month.
"I think it was a big mistake by the chancellor to take a position before he saw the (U.N.) inspectors' report. That isolated Germany," she said.
In final results, the Christian Democrats grabbed 48 percent of the vote in Lower Saxony from 36 percent in the last election five years ago. The Social Democrats had 33 percent, down from nearly 48 percent.
In Hesse, the Christian Democrats won 49 percent compared to 39 percent in 1999, with the Social Democrats slumping to 29 percent from 39 percent. With a one-seat majority, the Christian Democrats have the chance to drop the Free Democratic allies and govern alone.