Belligerent Schroeder in TV talk show draws fire

20th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

20 September 2005, BERLIN - A belligerent performance by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in a TV talk show after German elections, which his party narrowly lost, has drawn widespread criticism and fuelled alarm the country could be lurching into a political crisis.

20 September 2005

BERLIN - A belligerent performance by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in a TV talk show after German elections, which his party narrowly lost, has drawn widespread criticism and fuelled alarm the country could be lurching into a political crisis.

Despite coming in behind conservative challenger Angela Merkel, the Chancellor - in an interview with all leading candidates after Sunday's elections - insisted he had won and should remain German leader.

This means Schroeder is locked in battle with Merkel who insists she should head the next German government. With both sides digging in their heels the impasse is likely to remain for weeks and could even force new elections - which some analysts say is Schroeder's secret goal.

A grinning Schroeder first accused the TV moderators of having "an intellectual problem" and not being objective in their reporting and questioning.

Turning to a grim-looking Merkel he said: "Do you seriously think my party will accept this offer for talks with Frau Merkel? ... Under her leadership she will never get a coalition with my party."

This was strong stuff given that Merkel's Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) came in first with 35.2 per cent, compared with 34.3 per cent for Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD).

The CDU/CSU won about 440,000 votes more than the SPD and will have a three-seat majority in parliament's lower chamber, the Bundestag.

Schroeder insists, contrary to German post-war tradition, that the CDU and its Bavarian CSU sister party must from now on be treated as totally separate parties. Under this interpretation his SPD would indeed have come in first on Sunday.

Most newspapers said Schroeder had "run riot" during the half-hour TV show dubbed "the elephant round". The Berliner Zeitung, which generally backs the Chancellor, called it "a bizarre appearance".

Initial criticism came from Schroeder's wife, Doris, as was admitted by the Chancellor himself.

"I was perhaps a bit too riotous," said Schroeder, adding: "Oh well...she told me I should try to be more of a statesman."

This was mild compared to other critiques of Schroeder whose body language oozed confidence bordering on arrogance.

Arnulf Baring, a leading German political historian, termed the Chancellor's performance "shocking".

"He spoke on election night as if he was on the verge of carrying out a putsch," said Baring in a B.Z. newspaper interview, adding: "The way he is treating democracy and majority rule is truly threatening."

Asked why Schroeder had behaved in this manner, Baring said he could only explain it by assuming the Chancellor was "not his normal self." He did not elaborate.

The Berliner Kurier newspaper headline put it differently: "Was the Chancellor intoxicated by his victory or did he have one glass of wine too many?"

The paper quoted members of Schroeder's own SPD following the interview on giant TV screens at party headquarters in Berlin saying: "He's drunk."

But the paper insisted this was not the case. "No, the Chancellor was not drunk - he was intoxicated with victory."

Juergen Leinemann, one of Germany's leading political authors, said Schroeder had been "pumped up with adrenaline" and that his performance had "gotten out of control but that this had not been unintended."

Predictably, members of Merkel's CDU/CSU attacked Schroeder.

"Schroeder is a total egocentric who is twisting the law and ignoring all rules of democracy," said Guenter Beckstein, the CSU Bavarian interior minister.

The big winner of Sunday's TV debate was widely deemed to have been Free Democratic Party (FDP) chairman Guido Westerwelle.

While Merkel appeared almost paralysed in the face of Schroeder's attacks, Westerwelle leapt to her defence.

"You cannot be taken seriously," snapped Westerwelle who refused to address the defeated Schroeder as "Herr Chancellor" and instead called him "Herr Colleague" given they are both members of parliament and Schroeder is now only acting chancellor.

When Schroeder tried to slap down Westerwelle with a lesson on German politics from the 1960s, Westerwelle swiftly turned the tables.

"I may be younger than you - but I'm not more stupid," said Westerwelle, whose liberals increased their share of the vote to 9.8 per cent and are being sought both by Schroeder and Merkel as a coalition partner.

Following the TV talk show, Westerwelle declared his party would not even hold exploratory talks with Schroeder's SPD.

DPA

Subject: German news

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