Schroeder wins second term
BERLIN, Germany -- Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has secured one of the narrowest victory margins in German election history.
Schroeder declared victory in front of cheering supporters at the Social Democratic Party headquarters in Berlin on Sunday night at the end of a day of polling in the general election.
Schroeder, appearing with Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of the Greens party, the partner in his governing coalition, said: "We have hard times in front of us and we're going to make it together."
The full result will not be final until they are certified on October 9. (Analysis)
But his conservative rival, the Christian Democrat leader Edmund Stoiber, predicted the chancellor's new mandate would not last a year.
Stoiber, who had earlier prematurely declared victory after early returns, told his supporters: "Should the result not allow us to form a government, then I predict before you that this Schroeder government will rule for only a very short time.
"Perhaps there is a piece of universal justice there that Mr. Schroeder will be able to live through the results of what he has brought upon us. Just give him a few months to go through that."
He added: "We will continue to state: This (Social Democratic-Greens) coalition will not heal our country's economy and further there will be no release from the isolation from Europe and the United States."
It was estimated that about 80 percent of Germany's 61 million voters turned out to cast their votes -- one for a local candidate and one for a party.
Some reports said the final difference between the Schroeder and Stoiber results may be less than 9,000 votes.
Official results showed the ruling Social Democrat-Green coalition parties squeezed through with a combined 47.1 percent of the vote, giving them 306 seats in the new 603-seat parliament.
The Christian Democrats and Free Democrats polled 45.9 percent of the vote, giving them 295 seats.
Schroeder's victory was so slim that he stopped short of making a definitive winner's speech and Stoiber never formally conceded.
Schroeder and Fischer said they would start coalition talks soon.
"We will lead the coalition negotiations," said Fischer.
"This will be a cooperation built on a common foundation. It will be fair," Schroeder said.
Social Democrat General Secretary Franz Muentefering told German radio on Monday: "In three weeks the government will be stable."
Schroeder has drawn criticism from the U.S. administration for opposing a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq, although the stance gained him support among German voters during the campaign. (Full story)
Stoiber told German television that the crisis with the United States "the most devastating of the last 50 years."
He said: "What I criticise above all is that (Schroeder) opened the floodgates for anti-American tones."
But Schroeder showed no intention on Monday of backing down.
"I have formulated a German position (over Iraq), and I have nothing to retract on that count," he told German television.
He used his last campaign rally, on Saturday, to reinforce his opposition to a war in Iraq, which has dominated campaigning in the run-up to the polls.
Alleged comments by his justice minister likening U.S. President George W. Bush's stance on Iraq to Hitler's use of foreign policy to hide domestic woes overshadowed the final day of campaigning and prompted Schroeder to write a conciliatory letter to Bush. (Full story)
Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin has denied a newspaper claim that she plans to resign.