Merkel Says She’s No Shoo-In for Chancellor on Sept. 22

Angela Merkel warned voters not to take it for granted that she’ll win a third term in this month’s election, urging them to give her their support if they want her to remain German chancellor.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Trier yesterday as two separate opinion polls showed her lead over challenger Peer Steinbrueck’s Social Democrats narrowing, Merkel said the election isn’t yet “a done deal.” She said she sees “no reason” to believe SPD leaders when they say they won’t ally with the anti-capitalist Left Party if it meant winning power.

“If you think that I’ll remain chancellor somehow, it could happen to you that you wake up on Monday morning and you have red-red-green,” she said, referring to the colours of the opposition SPD, their Green party allies and the Left. “I’m convinced that wouldn’t be good for Germany.”

While Merkel’s Christian Democrats have relied until now on the chancellor’s high approval ratings to allow them to repeat their current coalition with the Free Democrats, that message is shifting in the face of a reinvigorated challenge by Steinbrueck since the campaign’s only televised debate on Sept. 1. Merkel now is ramping up her warnings of what an SPD-led government might bring.

“We’ve had four good years, I have referred to that, but it is not a given that the next few years will also be good,” Merkel said in Trier, on the Moselle River, which lays claim to being Germany’s oldest town. “We mustn’t jeopardize this now, we mustn’t take the wrong steps. New taxes, higher taxes, are such wrong steps in my opinion.”

G-20 Summit

A poll released today as Merkel prepared to travel to Russia for the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg may have eased the chancellor’s concerns. The weekly FG Wahlen survey for ZDF television, the first full sample to be taken after the debate, suggested the exchange had little or no impact on voting intentions: 59 percent of those polled said they want Merkel as chancellor compared with 30 percent who favored Steinbrueck, a decline of 1 percentage point apiece.

Support for Merkel’s CDU and its CSU Bavarian sister party was unchanged at 41 percent, while her Free Democratic coalition partner held at 6 percent. The Social Democrats had 26 percent, also unchanged, as the Green party dropped two percentage points to 10 percent. The Left Party gained a point to 8 percent. The poll of 1,296 voters was taken Sept. 2-4. The results have a margin of error of as much as 3 percentage points.

Hannelore Kraft

While Merkel’s coalition had 47 percent support to 36 percent for the SPD and Greens, that 11 percentage-point lead narrows to just 3 points if the Left Party is included.

Steinbrueck and the rest of the SPD leadership rules out a federal coalition with the Left, yet there are precedents for cooperation at regional level. The state of Brandenburg is governed by an SPD-Left coalition; and in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, the SPD’s Hannelore Kraft ran a minority coalition with the Greens with Left Party support until she won a majority in elections in May last year.

After a prior SPD cooperation deal with the Left went sour in Hesse, “it was said that this would never happen again, and subsequently Mrs. Kraft did it,” Merkel said. “Therefore I see no reason why I should believe those who’re saying it today.”

Tax Plans

Merkel is campaigning on her record of tackling the debt crisis that spread from Greece as well as her stewardship of the Germany economy, with joblessness near a two-decade low and the budget balanced. Her charge that SPD and Green party plans to raise taxes on the wealthier would harm the economy is disputed by Steinbrueck, who says the majority of voters would be better off and the extra revenue used to employ more teachers.

Steinbrueck, Merkel’s first-term finance minister, says that Merkel has failed to address the rich-poor gap as the economy rebounded, while wielding a “savings club” over the euro zone during the debt crisis that spread from Greece.

“Each country must be prepared to tackle its own problems at the roots,” since only by making efforts in return for aid will Europe regain strength, Merkel said yesterday. “A strong Europe must be based on dependability: we have to keep the promises we make.”

Steinbrueck met with SPD and Green state leaders in Berlin today before resuming campaigning in Baden-Wuerttemberg state in Germany’s southwest. Merkel returns to the campaign trail on Saturday, and is then due to address a party convention in Dusseldorf on Sept. 8 marking the final two-week “hot phase” of the campaign.

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