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German Voters Expected To Elect Merkel To Third Term


German voters are expected to elect Chancellor Angela Merkel to a third term on Sunday. Now, if she wins, Merkel, who is a former physicist, will be on the path to becoming Europe's longest-serving female head of government. The prospect of another four years of Merkel unsettles many Europeans outside Germany. But she is respected at home. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson sent us this profile from Berlin of the woman the German media call Mutti, or mommy of the nation.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: A mammoth campaign poster of Merkel's hands looms near the chancellery, beckoning German voters to entrust those hands with their future. The diamond shape formed by her fingertips is her trademark and offers some insight into the reserved German chancellor. Paula Diehl is a body language expert at Humboldt University here.

PAULA DIEHL: (German spoken)

NELSON: She says Merkel stubbornly clings to the gesture that conveys nervousness, and she has turned it into a symbol of power. Turning weakness into strength is something the chancellor has done during most of her political career. She's sometimes referred to as Teflon Merkel for her ability to deflect controversy. Merkel makes no apology for pressuring struggling European countries to adopt austerity measures in recent years. Her stance led some southern Europeans to compare her to Adolf Hitler and burn her in effigy.


NELSON: At a campaign event last month, the chancellor acknowledged being harsh during the eurozone crisis. But she added that austerity measures were the only solution, as Germans learned from their own economic crisis a decade earlier. Some analysts say during this campaign season, Merkel appears more confident than ever. Her determination is something the pastor's daughter who grew up in communist East Germany has spent a lifetime cultivating, says Bloomberg journalist Tony Czuczka, co-author of a new book called "Angela Merkel: A Chancellorship Forged in Crisis."

TONY CZUCZKA: She never talks about this - certainly not now - but I think it's clear when you go back and look at her career, she worked very hard to overcome the disadvantages of being an East German and a woman in a male-dominated West German system.

NELSON: But Czuczka says Merkel doesn't like to talk about her past or her ambitions. During a videotaped interview in May with Brigitte magazine, the moderator tells Merkel she can choose between speaking and keeping silent.


NELSON: The chancellor, tongue-in-cheek, quickly chooses silence. Author Czuczka says the exchange highlights not only Merkel's reserve, but her cutting sense of humor, which few people get to see.

CZUCZKA: It's not something that she flaunts or uses a lot on the campaign trail, but then again, being comedic on the campaign trail is not a German thing.

NELSON: But bland or not, Merkel appeals to many German voters who see her as vital to keeping Germany prosperous and stable. They like the fact that the woman ranked by Forbes as the second most powerful person in the world shops for her own groceries and lives with her husband in a modest apartment rather than in the penthouse above the chancellery. One Merkel voter is Hans-Juergen Thies.

HANS-JUERGEN THIES: (German spoken)

NELSON: The 58-year-old lawyer from North Rhein Westphalia says Germans don't necessarily love their chancellor, but respect her for her no-nonsense approach to governance. Even her few critics in the German press express admiration.

DANIELA VATES: (German spoken)

NELSON: Daniela Vates of the center-left newspaper Berliner Zeitung says Merkel knows to keep enough distance from her political party so that voters don't perceive her as partisan. That skill to stay above the political fray could prove especially useful after Sunday's election. The latest polls show Merkel's popularity may not be enough to give her Christian Democrats the votes needed to govern on their own. They may have to form a ruling coalition with their opponents. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.