Merkel slams Scholz as her Conservatives fall to record low
Chancellor Angela Merkel plunged into Germany’s election campaign, warning that the Social Democrats would take the country off course in an unusually direct intervention in the contest as her conservatives slumped to a new low in the polls.
In a Forsa survey for RTL/ntv, support for the Christian Democrat-led bloc dropped two percentage points to 19%, its lowest level in any voter survey in the post-war era. The SPD gained two points from a week ago to 25%, opening up a six-point lead.
The latest poll added a note of desperation to Merkel’s efforts to sway voters. In a sign of the growing anxiety within her camp, she gave a full-throated endorsement for conservative candidate Armin Laschet and slammed the SPD’s Olaf Scholz for not ruling out a coalition with the anti-capitalist Left party.
“It matters who runs the country,” Merkel said on Tuesday in a feisty speech in the German parliament, her last before the 26 September election.
After 16 years running Europe’s largest economy, Merkel remains the country’s most popular politician - and the chancellor was leveraging her standing to sway voters. She has remained remarkably quiet throughout the campaign to select her successor, only wading in recently as her CDU/CSU alliance plunges amid voter doubts over Laschet’s leadership capabilities.
Many coalitions possible
Germans will have the choice between a government led by the SPD and the Greens, which “would accept the support of the Left party,” she said, echoing talking points from Laschet’s campaign. The alternative would be a conservative-led government with Laschet as chancellor, which “would stand for stability, reliability and restraint.”
Scholz, finance minister and vice chancellor for Merkel’s final term, has run his campaign by positioning himself as the rightful heir to her legacy, going as far as being photographed mimicking her iconic rhombus-shaped hand gesture. Her speech seemed a rebuttal to his strategy.
In the three-hour session in the Bundestag - billed as a “debate on the situation in Germany” - Merkel specifically attacked a comment from Scholz, who appeared to suggest that Covid-19 vaccinations are still experimental.
“No one getting vaccinated was a guinea pig,” she said, alluding to a comment he made in a recent interview. “Neither me nor Olaf Scholz.”
Speaking later in the session, which took on all the trappings of a campaign showdown, Laschet weighed in, telling Scholz - who was sitting nearby - to “moderate” his language.
Scholz playing it safe
Scholz maintained his low-key style and didn’t directly respond to the attacks. Instead, he stuck to his own program, promising to build 400,000 new apartments in the first year of his government, raise the minimum wage to 12 euros an hour from 9.60 euros, and spoke out against tax breaks for the wealthy.
Another CDU-led government would “cost wealth and jobs” in Germany, Scholz said.
The SPD - a distant third over most of the summer - has turned the contest around, vaulting into the lead over the alliance of the CDU and its Bavarian CSU sister party. Laschet has failed to reach voters and mounted a gaffe-prone campaign that his weighed on support.
Making an unaccustomed appearance in the Bundestag in his role as state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Laschet took a broad view, invoking the 5 million unemployed in Germany in 2005, when Merkel took office -- a figure cut in half even as the pandemic shook the labor market.
“It’s good to remember that these were 16 good years for Germany,” Laschet said, proceeding to go on the attack against Scholz as Merkel’s false heir.
“Dear Olaf Scholz, you can’t run around doing the rhombus while talking like Saskia Esken,” the CDU chairman said - a reference to the left-leaning SPD co-leader, who reacted with laughter.
But the CDU chairman spent most of his 37-minute speech taking on Annalena Baerbock, the Green candidate who briefly led in the polls in the spring before being put on the defensive over accusations of plagiarism.
In the latest Forsa poll, the Greens dropped one point to 17%. The SPD and the Greens would still need a third partner to secure a majority in the Bundestag. The Left and the pro-business Free Democrats are options. The Left was steady at 6%, while the FDP rose one point to 13%.
Laschet accused the Greens of “moral arrogance” for criticising the 2038 target to phase out coal-fired electricity, saying that the Merkel-led administration with the SPD followed through on a blueprint to exit the dirty fuel.
For her part, Baerbock laced into Merkel for lulling voters into the sense that progress wasn’t needed after a decade and a half under her charge.
“It’s tempting in the campaign three weeks before the election to promise, ‘No worries - everything is going to stay the way it’s been’,” Baerbock told lawmakers, nodding at Merkel. “But the people in our country know that we can only keep what’s good and dear to us if we finally make a change.”
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