Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has won a second term in office. Not just that, but the scale of the victory of her CDU party means she'll be able to rule the country in a coalition with another right-leaning party from now on. For the last four years she's been forced to share power with the centre-left SPD, but after that party suffered its worst post-war election result, Frau Merkel doesn't need them anymore.
On the face of it, this is a big surprise. Governments are supposed to lose elections when times are hard, as has happened in the US and Japan lately. To not only win, but win by a bigger margin, is a remarkable achievement for Frau Merkel and the CDU. So what's going on?
Well, the recession's been just as bad in Germany as anywhere else, so it's not that. Rather, it seems to be a personal vote of confidence in Frau Merkel's confident but low-key leadership style. She was once criticised for being too dull and too provincial (she grew up in the old East Germany), but her pragmatic, sensible shoes approach has gone down well with voters during these difficult times. She also achieved the notable success of making sure German carmaker Opel was sold by General Motors to her preferred bidder, the Canadian firm Magna, which could help save German jobs in the long run.
Curiously, a similar sort of pragmatic approach hasn't done Gordon Brown much good in recent months. But then, in contrast to Frau Merkel, his personal reputation appears shattered beyond repair with most British voters. Don't expect him to be able to match Frau Merkel's achievement in next year's general election.