Rising in the male-dominated beer-and-BMW politics of Germany, Angela Merkel is known less for eloquent speeches and charisma than for intellectual rigor and an unabashed quest for power that have intrigued this nation for years.
Merkel may make history Sunday, when polls in a tight election campaign predict the 51-year-old conservative will become the country's first female chancellor.
The daughter of a Lutheran minister, rose in communist East Germany, Merkel is the antithesis of the spin and glamour of modern politics that her opponent Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder navigates so well.
The reticent leader of the Christian Democrats, Merkel, a physicist, carries an air of determination and integrity that has dogged the gregarious Schroeder in his last-minute campaign rallies.
Yet many Germans regard Merkel as aloof and inscrutable, a politician who has managed to remain in the shadows while standing in the spotlight.
"The German public is finding out it doesn't know the lady very well," said Matthias Machnig, a consultant who ran Schroeder's first campaign for chancellor in 1998. "Who is she? What is her foreign policy? What is her economic plan? She's powerful and willing to win, but is she the leader of a nation? That's the question," reports LA Times.
According to Guardian, Ms Merkel's own message is unambiguous, and under a brilliant late afternoon blue sky she warms to her theme. Mr Schrцder's seven years in government have been a failure, she says. Unemployment has gone up, public debt has ballooned, and Germany has slipped down Europe's economic league table. "He has set out to create fear in people by not telling the truth." She adds: "He's lied. What he has done is unworthy."
The many pensioners in the audience clap; hecklers chant "Hau ab" (shut up).
This election appears to offer Germans a clear choice. Ms Merkel argues that the only way to rescue Germany from crisis is through reforms to the much-loved "social economic" model. With unemployment at almost five million she sets out her recovery plan: less bureaucracy, a simpler tax system, and a VAT increase from 16% to 18%, with the income used to cut employers' social security costs.
She says little about foreign policy, though most observers expect her to improve relations with the US and Britain, if elected. At her rally she gets a big cheer when she rules out Turkish membership of the EU - a theme that plays especially well in Germany's conservative Catholic south, an important source of votes. Overall, the impression is one of technocratic competence, but also the possibility of Germany becoming less tolerant.
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