Merkel douses talk of early poll despite big lead

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BERLIN, Oct 3 (Reuters) Chancellor Angela Merkel tried today to douse any speculation of an early election even though her Christian Democrats have opened a wide lead over their Social Democrat coalition partners in opinion polls.

Two years before the next scheduled parliamentary ballot in 2009, Merkel said in an interview with Die Zeit weekly newspaper that the electorate has no stomach for another early election after the last session was cut a year short in 2005.

The centre-left SPD had been the arch rival for her conservatives for some four decades before they joined forces in a loveless coalition after the 2005 poll ended in a stalemate.

''I don't think the public has any interest in a constant shortening of the legislative periods,'' Merkel said when asked if she had plans to take advantage of her conservative bloc's 14-point lead in opinion polls for a snap election.

''Each party in the government knows that they have to treat those election results with a high degree of responsibility,'' she added. ''That of course means that a bit of humility and sense of duty is required from everyone.'' Even though the German economy has posted strong growth rates and unemployment has tumbled under the right-left grand coalition, there have been some ugly rows between the two that have fuelled speculation of a premature end to the coalition.

Merkel's CDU and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, would win 39 per cent of the vote while the SPD would get 25 per cent, according to a recent Forsa poll. That has contributed to speculation Merkel might call for an early poll.

''I've got a lot of respect for the SPD,'' Merkel said. ''And I know that it doesn't make any sense to spend all your time thinking about the possible outcome of an election in 2009. It would just distract us from the job at hand.'' Even though the SPD finished just behind the CDU/CSU in 2005, they have slumped about 10 points in surveys to around 25 percent -- hurt by splits between the left and right wings. Two SPD leaders have resigned in the last two years.

REUTERS SKB HS1834

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