Candidates seeking Merkel's crown in first major TV debate

Merkel Photo
The TV studio where the debate of the three candidates for German chancellor will take place is pictured in Berlin on August 29, 2021, ahead of general elections taking place on September 26, 2021. (Photo: Agence France-Presse)
BERLIN — The three candidates seeking Chancellor Angela Merkel's job face their first major prime-time TV debate on Sunday, with her party's choice to succeed her desperately seeking to reverse a losing trend less than a month before elections.اضافة اعلان

The candidate of Merkel's CDU-CSU alliance, Armin Laschet, had gone into the election race with a comfortable lead over his rivals from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens.

But several missteps in the last weeks have left his popularity in the doldrums and support for his party slipping just as Merkel is due to bow out of politics after 16 years as German leader.

Instead, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who was largely written off by many in the beginning given lackluster support for his SPD, has now sprung forward in the race.

He has even overtaken the leader of the Greens, Annalena Baerbock, as she stumbled too from a series of scandals including plagiarism claims.

A poll published by Bild am Sonntag newspaper just hours before the TV battle showed support for Scholz's SPD climbing to 24 percent. The CDU-CSU alliance meanwhile sank to its all-time worst score at 21 percent. The Greens were at 17 percent.

The survey appears to confirm recent trends that support for the SPD was surging and that for the conservatives waning, in the crucial last lap of the election race.

Merkel's conservatives were now "in total panic," said Bild.

The picture was worse when it came to Germans want as chancellor, with polls over the last weeks showing Scholz with a big lead over Laschet and Baerbock.

The apparent splintered political landscape heralds complicated talks ahead to form a government, as mathematically, three parties would be needed for a stable coalition.

For the first time in over a decade, stable Germany was staring at a potentially turbulent political future.

Hopes pinned on debate

Laschet, currently state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, saw the tide turn against him during the deadly floods that struck western Germany in mid-July.

Caught on camera chuckling behind in the background with local officials while Germany's president gave a speech mourning victims of deadly floods, Laschet has since been unable to halt a falling trend in popularity.

Underlining the seriousness of the situation for Merkel's conservatives, which have led four consecutive coalitions, Sueddeutsche said the CDU-CSU "will have to fight at the moment to be even in a position to be in negotiations for the next government".

"At the CDU headquarters, they are now placing their hopes on the three-way debate of the chancellor candidates," it said.
In comparison, Scholz has avoided mistakes.

"Like no other of his competitors, he has embodied the statesman in the election battle, the one who finds the right words, be it during the flood disaster in July or about the terrible images that have reached us from Afghanistan," noted right-leaning Welt daily.

It also pointed out that for those longing for a continuation of Merkel's style of no-frills but steady government may have picked Scholz as their choice.

Even if they hail from different parties, Scholz himself is not shy about letting a bit of the shine from the still popular Merkel rub off on him.

"It is never bad for a man to be compared with a successful chancellor," he said in a recent interview with Sueddeutsche daily.

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