Merkel, rival gear up for crucial pre-election TV debate

13th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

In Germany's fourth ever TV election debate, the pair were due to spar for 90 minutes from 8:30 pm local time, being grilled by four prominent journalists on a wide range of topics, including the economic crisis and the war in Afghanistan.

Berlin -- Angela Merkel and Frank-Walter Steinmeier were poised to battle it out on Sunday in a TV debate widely seen as the latter's last chance to turn the tables on the popular German chancellor two weeks before elections.

In Germany's fourth ever TV election debate, the pair were due to spar for 90 minutes from 8:30 pm local time, being grilled by four prominent journalists on a wide range of topics, including the economic crisis and the war in Afghanistan.

And with time fast ticking before Germany goes to the polls on September 27, the "TV-duel" as it is dubbed here is being viewed as the last opportunity to ignite an election campaign that has largely failed to inspire the public.

The stakes are high: some 20 million Germans -- around one third of voters -- were expected to tune in, and 56 percent said in a recent survey the duel could have some influence on where they put their cross on election day.

Steinmeier, vice-chancellor and foreign minister in Germany's uneasy 'grand coalition', still has a vast amount of ground to close, with recent polls putting his Social Democrats around 13 points behind Merkel's conservatives.

"This evening is all or nothing for Steinmeier. If he doesn't start to launch his defence in the TV studio ... then he's failed," the mass-circulation Bild am Sonntag said in an editorial.

However, those looking for fireworks between the two might be disappointed.

Both politicians are cautious and understated by nature and find it difficult to attack each other's record as they have been coalition partners for the past four years.

And both have played down expectations that the gloves will finally come off on Sunday, with Steinmeier saying: "The TV duel is not about our fighting styles."

The cosy nature of the debate has infuriated Guido Westerwelle, leader of the liberal Free Democrats who are Merkel's preferred coalition partners.

Calling his own exclusion from the debate "undemocratic and unfair", Westerwelle said it would likely come across as a "televised cabinet meeting."

"Mrs. Merkel is going to say: 'Frank-Walter, it hasn't been all that bad' and Frank-Walter will reply: 'Angela, you're right," he told the Handelsblatt business daily.

Claus Leggewie from the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities in the western city of Essen also warned that few sparks were likely to fly.

"Here come two people from the same government to tell us how it all went - not very exciting," he told the WAZ daily.

Media expert Hans-Hermann Tiedje said people would tune in "out of pure desperation."

"I would rather go and see Knut. That would be more informative," he told the Tagesspiegel daily, referring to the Berlin zoo polar bear cub who shot to global fame in 2007.

However, Germans turned off by their insipid election campaign at least have a choice in the rotund shape of Homer Simpson.

While the debate is being carried live on four major channels, a rival station is showing "The Simpsons - The Movie", and has plastered Berlin with ads saying "Vote Simpsons."

AFP/Expatica

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