Bad news for Schroeder asre-election campaign begins

24th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

24 May 2005, BERLIN - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was hit by multiple bad news on Tuesday as his re-election campaign geared up, with a poll showing him far behind Germany's opposition conservatives and a key economic index slumping.

24 May 2005

BERLIN - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was hit by multiple bad news on Tuesday as his re-election campaign geared up, with a poll showing him far behind Germany's opposition conservatives and a key economic index slumping.

The closely-watched ZDF TV Politbarometer poll put Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) at 29 percent, compared with a comfy 50 percent for the Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU).

Schroeder's Greens partner are at 6 percent and the Free Democrats (FDP), who say they will ally with the CDU/CSU, are at 7 percent, the poll showed.

Equally worrying for Schroeder is that his personal popularity is only one point higher than the expected CDU/CSU chancellor candidate, Angela Merkel.

The poll - which was conducted on Monday one day after Schroeder made his surprise call for early elections this September - gave the Chancellor a 45 percent approval rating, compared with 44 percent for Merkel.

Earlier surveys had Schroeder over 10 points ahead of Merkel, who hails from eastern Germany and is seen by some analysts as being a dour campaigner.

Schroeder's biggest problem is that he gets the blame for soaring unemployment of 12 percent, with almost five million jobless, which is just below the post-1930s record of 5.2 million unemployed which was hit earlier this year.

His SPD faces a devastating lack of confidence regarding unemployment. An Infratest-Dimap Agency poll showed only 18 percent trusted Schroeder's party to create jobs, while 49 percent said they trusted the CDU/CSU to cut unemployment.

Adding to Schroeder's woes, the key indicator showing German investor confidence fell to a six month-low in May. The closely-watched ZEW index fell to 13.9 points in May from 20.1 points in April.

There is little time for a recovery given that Germany's general election is expected to be held on 18 September.

Schroeder said his re-election campaign in the coming four months would focus on the personal differences as well as issues.

"I believe we would do well to have a highly personalised contest," said the chancellor in a Die Zeit newspaper interview.

He also vowed to raise the Iraq war issue in the campaign. Schroeder strongly opposed the war which soured ties with the United States. Merkel backed US president George W. Bush over the war while being careful never to say that German troops should serve in Iraq.

Schroeder's 'nein' to the war was hugely popular in Germany and helped him win a narrow re-election in 2002.

The chancellor also told Die Zeit he would not make a pre-election coalition pledge to his Greens partner.

Schroeder has governed Germany with a left-leaning coalition of his SPD with the Greens as junior partner since 1998. The top Greens cabinet member is Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer who is also vice- chancellor.

"In an election campaign everybody seeks to win the biggest number of votes against all competitors," said Schroeder.

Schroeder insisted this did not mean he was giving up on the SPD- Greens coalition. "I want the SPD to be the strongest party," he said.

Nevertheless, the move fuels speculation that the SPD is keeping open options for other coalitions.

One possibility is a grand coalition with the CDU/CSU. However, this has been rejected by Merkel.

Another option could be an alliance with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) which served with the SPD chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt from 1969 to 1982. But the FDP says it wants to set up a centre-right government with the CDU/CSU.

Schroeder announced he wanted early elections after his SPD was badly defeated in regional elections on Sunday in Germany's industrial heartland state North Rhine-Westphalia - the latest in a series of state election debacles suffered by the party in past years.

Germany's next national election had been planned for autumn 2006.

The path to early elections starts with a 'constructive vote of no confidence' in the Schroeder government to be held by 1 July. After this, Federal President Horst Koehler has up to 21 days to decide whether to approve new elections. Once the president gives a green light, elections must be held within 60 days.

Some legal experts have questioned the no confidence vote, given that Schroeder still has a majority in parliament. In order to bring down his own government the Chancellor will order his own party members to abstain in the vote.

But the former vice-president of Germany's highest court, Ernst Gottfried Mahrenholz, told Bayerischer Rundfunk radio he saw no legal barriers to holding a general election in four months.


Subject: German news

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