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Merkel on track for new German coalition

CHANCELLOR Angela Merkel remains on track to form a center-right government in Germany's election next weekend, despite gains for her center-left rival, two polls found today.

The conservative Merkel wants to break free from her "grand coalition" with the Social Democrats of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier after the Sept. 27 vote. She hopes to form a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats instead - a goal that eluded her at the last election in 2005.

Polls for ARD and ZDF television - their last before the election - found that the planned center-right alliance is on track for a slim parliamentary majority, although Steinmeier emerged well from a television debate with Merkel last weekend.

ARD's poll, conducted by Infratest dimap, put support for Merkel's Christian Democrats at 35 percent and for the Free Democrats at 14 percent. It put the Social Democrats at 26 percent, the Greens at 10 percent and the Left Party at 11 percent.

ZDF's poll, carried out by Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, had Merkel's party on 36 percent and the Free Democrats on 13 percent. It gave the Social Democrats 25 percent, the Greens 10 percent and the Left Party 11 percent.

The polls found the Social Democrats gaining as much as three points in a week - but that appeared to come at the expense of rivals on the left rather than the center-right. Support for Merkel's party was unchanged.

Merkel is pledging tax relief and hopes to halt a plan to shut down all Germany's 17 nuclear plants by 2021. The Social Democrats oppose both ideas.

ARD's poll found that 58 percent of people would like a change of government, while 35 percent believe the "grand coalition" of Germany's biggest parties should continue.

Both polls were conducted between Tuesday and Thursday and gave a margin of error of plus or minus about three percentage points. ARD surveyed 1,252 people and ZDF polled 1,352.


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