- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 1, 2005

DRESDEN, Germany — Angela Merkel’s chances of becoming Germany’s first woman chancellor will hinge on the persuasive powers of a former cake maker when voters in the eastern city of Dresden go to the polls today.

The bearded and bespectacled Andreas Lammel has been unexpectedly thrust into the national spotlight this weekend because of the importance attached to the by-election in Dresden, caused by the sudden death of a candidate during the general election. Two weeks after the inconclusive election result left Mrs. Merkel and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at loggerheads over who should become the next German leader, the success or otherwise of Mr. Lammel — like Mrs. Merkel, a conservative Christian Democrat — has taken on a particular significance.

Although his election would not make a practical difference to the balance within the German parliament, where neither main party has enough seats to form a government, it is widely expected to be a “tipping point” that could push Mr. Schroeder into admitting defeat and stepping down.

“I never dreamt that a mere by-election would be so important. Half the world is watching this city,” Mr. Lammel said as he stood canvassing outside a new Dresden shopping precinct. “It will play a major psychological role in determining who becomes the next German chancellor.”

Mr. Lammel, 42, is a newcomer to national politics. Born in Dresden when the city was under communist rule, his chosen career was deliberately apolitical: he began as an apprentice pastry cook in one of the city’s state-run cake factories.

Only after German reunification in 1990 did he become interested in politics. He joined Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democrats in 1994 and since then has been a senator in the state government of Saxony, where he specializes in helping medium-sized bus- inesses to get off the ground.

In today’s election he is competing against Marlies Volkmer, his Social Democrat rival, for a single seat in Germany’s parliament. If he wins he will have increased the advantage of Mrs. Merkel’s conservatives over Mr. Schroeder’s Social Democrats to just four seats. However, the conservatives, like the Social Democrats, realize that even the slimmest of victories may fatally undermine their opponents’ claim to the chancellor’s job.

The question of who should serve as chancellor has become the main stumbling block to attempts to form a “grand coalition” between the two main parties — now seen as the only solution to Germany’s political deadlock.

Mrs. Merkel claims that her narrow advantage over the Social Democrats in the parliament gives her the right to become the country’s next leader, but Mr. Schroeder is refusing to step down, prompting charges that he is behaving like a latter-day Roman emperor.

With 40 percent of Dresden’s voters apparently still undecided, Mr. Lammel was put a mere two percentage points ahead of his Social Democrat rival in an opinion poll last week.

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