SPD take aim at Merkel aselection campaign heats up
10 August 2005, BERLIN - Buoyed by rising polls, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats are taking aim at conservative candidate Angela Merkel with attacks aimed at discrediting the frontrunning challenger.
10 August 2005
BERLIN - Buoyed by rising polls, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats are taking aim at conservative candidate Angela Merkel with attacks aimed at discrediting the frontrunning challenger.
Schroeder's chief strategist, Kajo Wasserhoevel, bluntly announced this week that the Social Democratic (SPD) campaign is targeting personalities - not merely issues.
"There is going to be a lot of plain-talking in this election," said Wasserhoevel as he showed reporters Schroeder's busy campaign headquarters at the SPD's Willy Brandt Haus in Berlin.
The spotlight is now on Merkel and voters do not like what they are seeing, added Schroeder's spin doctor.
The Chancellor will formally launch his reelection bid on Saturday at a rally in his hometown of Hanover.
Wasserhoevel unveiled one poster to be splashed across Germany showing Merkel in a long evening dress and her husband in a black dinner jacket on a red carpet at the annual Wagner festival in Bayreuth.
Emblazoned over the poster is a quote from Merkel saying: "Things have never been so bad in Germany". The implication seems to be that Merkel leads a life of luxury while the rest of the nation suffers from a weak economy and unemployment of almost 12 per cent.
Schroeder, who prefers football, steers clear of the Wagner festival which is a networking event for Germany's rich and famous.
An SPD bumper sticker is even more amusingly direct and plays on the German word for candidate which is 'Kandidat'.
"Angela Merkel - Kan di Dat? (can she do it?)" is the sticker's slogan expressed in northern German or Berlin dialect.
Asked how many of these stickers the SPD planned to distribute, Wasserhoevel, who has an uncanny resemblance to Harry Potter, laughed and said: "Lots, these are cheap to produce."
Meanwhile, a different kind of campaign has been aimed at Merkel by a newspaper which supports Schroeder's SPD.
The Berliner Zeitung alleges that a top politician in Merkel's party used sex-slave prostitutes. It bases this claim on a list of clients it obtained linked to a 2003 scandal which brought down another CDU member for having frequented Ukrainian prostitutes forced into the trade.
But instead of the publishing the name of the CDU leader - because it apparently lacks clear evidence backing up the claim - the Berliner Zeitung has taken the unusual step of publicly demanding Merkel disclose whether she knows the name of the man and if she plans disciplinary moves against him.
Commenting on this new form of journalism, the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine paper said: "Causal links are being made in a split second between Merkel, a forced prostitution ring and the men who use it ... some of the dirt is going to stick."
Turning to concrete election issues, Wasserhoevel said the SPD planned numerous posters criticizing Merkel's plans to raise valued added tax to 18 per cent from the current rate of 16 per cent.
One poster shows a laptop computer with the price EUR 999 and the headline: "Plus EUR 19.98 Merkel tax."
Other SPD advertising will remind voters of Merkel's support for the U.S.-led Iraq war in 2003 which was deeply unpopular in Germany.
One of the posters makes a veiled warning that Merkel would be U.S. President George W. Bush's poodle with a text reading: "For peace - and against blind allegiance." Another Iraq war poster reads: "We had the courage for peace."
Merkel's Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) still leads Schroeder in all polls, but a Stern magazine/RTL TV survey released Wednesday showed a 3 percentage point drop in the CDU/CSU's support since last week.
The CDU/CSU is now at 42 per cent with the SPD gaining two points to land at 28 per cent, the poll said.
Schroeder's Greens partner and the opposition Free Democrats (FDP), with whom Merkel wants to set up a centre-right government, are both at 7 per cent, according to the poll.
Despite the SPD's slight improvement, most analysts say Schroeder has scant chances of staying in power at the head of his SPD-Greens government which has led Germany since 1998.
Manfred Guellner, head of the Forsa agency, which produced the Stern/RTL poll showing the SPD's rise, said the Chancellor has no hope of overtaking the CDU/CSU given that elections will be held on September 18.
"Even if you count the undecided voters the SPD is going to get a maximum of 33 per cent. There's not more in it than that," said Guellner, who is a member of the SPD and a close adviser to the Chancellor.
But stagnating support for Merkel and the rise of the new Left Party, with former East Germany's revamped neo-communists, which the poll shows at 12 per cent, may hinder Merkel from setting up her desired coalition with the FDP after elections.
Many analysts predict the only option for a Bundestag majority may be a grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD - something which both Merkel and Schroeder insist they do not want.
Subject: German news