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Schroeder Challenger Selected

Europe: Bavaria's rightist governor is likely to focus his campaign on German economic issues.

January 12, 2002|From Associated Press

BERLIN — Germany's conservatives chose a state governor with a rightist image and strong economic credentials Friday to challenge Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, ending months of wavering over their political direction heading into September parliamentary elections.

Edmund Stoiber, 60, is expected to campaign heavily on the stagnating economy and stubborn unemployment, which in recent months have undermined Schroeder's seemingly unassailable lead in the polls.

Stoiber won the nomination after Angela Merkel, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union, Germany's largest opposition party, withdrew her bid, ending a two-way battle over the conservatives' direction marked by intrigue and backbiting.

Although Merkel was viewed as challenging Schroeder for the centrist votes that lifted him to power in 1998, the conservatives instead looked to their right wing for a candidate. Stoiber, leader of the ultraconservative Christian Social Union, is known for his tough stand on immigration and law enforcement.

The CSU has governed Bavaria, a staunchly conservative, Roman Catholic southern state, since World War II. The party operates only in the state but campaigns together with the CDU in national elections.

Though Schroeder's personal popularity remains high, polls consistently show that Stoiber would be a stronger challenger than Merkel--largely because he has presided over economic success in Bavaria.

The state has the nation's lowest unemployment rate, and its politicians pride themselves on having turned a rural region into a postwar hub of information technology, auto making and engineering.

Schroeder's Social Democrats mocked the conservatives' choice, claiming that it shifted the conservatives to the right and showed that Merkel's attempts to reach out to new voters were at an end.

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