KARLSRUHE, (Germany), Nov 15 (AFP): Germany's Social Democrats will elect their first party chairman from the ex-communist east of the country Tuesday, a day after the way was cleared for Angela Merkel to become the reunited country's first leader from the same region.
Outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) and Merkel's Christian Democrat conservatives gave their blessing Monday to a power-sharing government pact at separate party congresses, allowing parliament to vote Merkel in next week.
"Now we can finally start making policy for the people in this country," Merkel, who will also be Germany's first female leader, told ARD television late Monday -- nearly two months after she narrowly won a general election.
"The spirit in which we sealed the agreement is one in which I think we can also accomplish something in the next four years for Germany."
The SPD congress will continue Tuesday with the election of Schroeder ally Matthias Platzeck as party leader, after his predecessor Franz Muentefering resigned amid a left-wing rebellion in the middle of the coalition talks.
Platzeck, the premier of Brandenburg state surrounding Berlin, is viewed as a pragmatist and an economic reformer who will be able to work well with Merkel, who grew up in Brandenburg.
Both are 51-year-old former scientists from Protestant families who managed to steer clear of politics under the communist regime until their moment in history came with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The national press has said that their role as "outsiders" who rocketed to the top of Germany's chief parties could make the unlikely left-right "grand coalition" government a success.
"No one seriously expected Matthias Platzeck to become party chairman, just as no one thought after the Kohl era that Angela Merkel would be CDU party leader," the news weekly Der Spiegel wrote, referring to her mentor, former chancellor Helmut Kohl.
"Both are the product of a highly unusual power constellation, and now they could make a difference together."
Despite Monday's show of unity, the media continued to look skeptically at what the bipartisan government could accomplish to energize the faltering economy, slash the 11-percent unemployment rate and cut the spiraling deficit.
Like many critics from across the political spectrum, the center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung zeroed in on plans included in the government pact to raise the value-added tax rate three points to 19 percent in 2007.
"It is above all doubtful whether the economy will get back on its feet quickly," it said in an editorial Tuesday.
"Will there really be a sales boom in 2006 because people want to head off the higher VAT? Or will they continue to refuse to shop because they fear the tax shock in the years to come? The new coalition does not make it easy to have faith."
Uncertainty has clouded German politics since May, when Schroeder announced he would seek an early election to win a new mandate for his controversial economic reform drive.
The inconclusive September election in which neither party won a ruling majority prolonged the uncertainty, which the conservatives and the SPD hope to end with the endorsement of the government pact and Merkel's inauguration.