Angela Merkel will replace Gerhard Schroeder as chancellor of Germany, becoming the first woman and first East German to hold the office. The decision came after three weeks of negotiation between the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD), following an inconclusive election. The two opposing parties decided to attempt joint rule, in a ‘grand coalition’ headed by the CDU’s Merkel.
Merkel, a former physicist, has tended to downplay her gender and East German roots. But as her campaign drew to a close, she assertively courted women voters, giving an interview to Germany’s leading feminist magazine, Emma, and emphasizing her commitment to women’s issues such as improved child care. As she told Emma, “Never before in my political life have I been taken so seriously as woman as in the past few months. … In return, I have publicly recognized my feminine identity to an unusual measure,” Der Spiegel reports.
Germany’s left-leaning parties have instituted quotas to ensure that one-third of candidates for office are women, but the CDU has been traditionally dominated by Catholic West German men. Yet Merkel gained a top position as Minister for Women and Youth within a year of joining the party in 1989, despite being nicknamed “the girl” by party leader Helmut Kohl.