Neck-and-neck German election turns nasty

13th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

13 September 2005, BERLIN - Germany's ruling Social Democrats and the conservative opposition traded allegations of deliberate deception Tuesday, with opinion polls providing no clear outcome to Sunday's election.

13 September 2005

BERLIN - Germany's ruling Social Democrats and the conservative opposition traded allegations of deliberate deception Tuesday, with opinion polls providing no clear outcome to Sunday's election.

Indications from within Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's SPD were that some party officials are considering the possibility of a grand coalition with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) under its candidate for chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Opinion polls continued to show the CDU, along with its Bavarian sister party the CSU, in the lead, but unable to secure an overall majority with their prospective coalition partners, the liberal FDP.

The opposing camps accused each other of deceiving the electorate over tax and financial policy.

The CDU/CSU allege Schroeder's government is holding back a list of cuts in social services until after the elections.

Schroeder denied the existence of the list, allegedly drawn up by Finance Minister Hans Eichel, that was leaked over the weekend. It referred to cuts of 30 billion euros.

He said ministry officials backing the opposition were probably behind the leak. Finance Ministry spokesman Stefan Giffeler said there had been a clear breach of ministry rules and that a thorough investigation was underway.

Merkel's choice of finance minister, Paul Kirchhof continues to draw fire from the SPD and their Greens coalition partners, who allege he plans to introduce a flat rate income tax of 25 per cent.

"That professor from Heidelberg has no understanding of the people... and if he is on the CDU team they should be rejected by the voters," Schroeder said.

Merkel stood by Kirchhof. "If the voters agree, then Paul Kirchhof will be finance minister," she said.

There were no plans to introduce a flat tax, Merkel said, adding that CDU/CSU tax policy was clearly laid out in the party manifesto.

Kirchhof himself said the charge would not stick. "I have never before experienced a campaign like this based on untruth and misinformation," he said in a newspaper interview.

Nevertheless, there was evident concern in party ranks over the controversy, with calls for a more prominent role for Friedrich Merz, a charismatic figure within the CDU.

The tax and finance expert has clashed with Merkel and resigned his post as chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in September 2002.

Sluggish growth, unemployment running at close to 5 million and Germany's generous social benefits are at the centre of the election campaign.

Schroeder alleges Merkel will dismantle the welfare state, while Merkel insists that economic reforms are needed to kickstart the economy.

Both leaders once again rejected forming a grand coalition between their two parties, an outcome that has been widely discussed in Germany.

But the SPD prime minister in the state of Rheinland-Palatinate, Kurt Beck, in a Tuesday radio interview, refused to rule out a grand coalition.

Nobody could tell the voters ahead of the election that a particular coalition was impossible, Beck said, describing this as "disrespect" for the electorate.

He also did not exclude the possibility of a coalition between the SPD, the Greens and the FDP, an option rejected by Schroeder and by Greens leader Joschka Fischer.

"Once the polling booths have closed, we all have the duty to form a responsible government in Germany in the light of the outcome," Beck said.

The dark horse in the race remains the new Left Party, which combines former communists from the East with the followers of maverick Oscar Lafointaine, who has broken away from the SDP.

A new poll Tuesday showed gains for the CDU/CSU, giving it 42 per cent. But support for the FDP was down, yielding the alliance a total of 48.5 per cent, insufficient for an overall majority in the Bundestag.

The Emnid poll for N24 TV gave the SPD on 33.5 per cent. The Greens scored 7 per cent, making a total of 40.5 per cent.

The Left Party would win 8 per cent.

In theory, adding the Left Party results to Schroeder's SPD/Greens would give the yield a poll result equal to Merkel's centre-right bloc, but Schroeder and Fischer have both ruled out a coalition with the Left Party.


Subject: German news

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