Merkel targeted as German election campaign gets personal

17th August 2009, Comments 0 comments

Turning up the heat in what so far has been a lacklustre campaign, Merkel's challenger for Germany's top job questioned her honesty while the Social Democratic party chief accused her of putting her career ahead of her country.

Berlin -- With only six weeks until elections and trailing in the polls, Germany's Social Democrats launched a series of personal attacks on Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday in a bid to win back ground.

Turning up the heat in what so far has been a lacklustre campaign, Merkel's challenger for Germany's top job questioned her honesty while the Social Democratic party chief accused her of putting her career ahead of her country.

"She has again promised tax cuts that will not come," said Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who hopes to unseat Merkel in the September 27 poll.

"The CDU (Merkel's conservative party) is not telling the voters before the election what they intend to do after the election," he told ARD television.

"I have a different idea of what honesty is," said Steinmeier, who is also foreign minister and vice-chancellor in Germany's unwieldy grand coalition.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) chief Franz Muentefering meanwhile accused her of being indifferent to the plight of millions of jobless people in Germany.

"She does not care about the large number of unemployed people in Germany," Muentefering told the mass circulation Bild am Sonntag.

"Right from the beginning, Mrs Merkel has looked at a policy with the thought: what can I do to stay chancellor? She has not first asked the question: what is good and necessary for our country," he said.

Muentefering also dismissed as "ignorant" accusations from the CDU and their preferred coalition partners the pro-business Free Democrats that the SPD had no plan for creating jobs.

The sharper tone from senior SPD politicians came as new opinion polls suggested they could be heading for an electoral battering.

A survey by the Emnid polling institute, for Bild am Sonntag newspaper, showed only nine percent of people believed Steinmeier would be chancellor after the election. In contrast, a stunning 83 percent expected Merkel to secure a second term.

However, in Germany's complex coalition-based politics, voters plump not for individuals, but for their favourite party, which then enter into a tortuous process of haggling over coalitions and ministerial posts.

And for the past few weeks, opinion polls have consistently shown the SPD trailing the CDU by a double-digit margin, suggesting Merkel could scrape together enough votes to jettison the SPD and form a government with the Free Democrats.

Steinmeier's campaign seemed cursed from the outset.

First, an SPD minister became embroiled in a scandal when it emerged she had taken her official car on holiday and that the vehicle was stolen.

Then, Steinmeier's much-heralded "Germany plan" -- with its central plank of four million jobs by 2020 -- was met with howls of derision from analysts and commentators who compared it to communist East Germany's five-year plans.

In contrast, Merkel, only just back from holiday, received a boost to her re-election bid on Friday with news that Germany had unexpectedly emerged from its deepest recession in over 60 years.

She has herself stayed away from personal attacks, exuding an air of calm, which is improving her image in the voters' eyes, said Rudolf Korte, a political scientist.

"In the midst of an economic crisis, people want security and calm," he told ARD television.

She has positioned herself as "the moderator in the grand coalition", he added, making her difficult to attack.

Nevertheless, this did not stop some of her allies rushing to her defence.

Roland Koch, a senior CDU politician, told the Hamburger Abendblatt local daily: "To make the absurd claim that she does not care about the unemployed is obscene."

AFP/Expatica

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