Support for Merkel slipping as campaign begins

22nd July 2005, Comments 0 comments

22 July 2005, BERLIN - Germany's election campaign has begun in earnest with a new poll released Friday showing support for front-runner opposition chancellor candidate Angela Merkel's political bloc continuing to drop off with a new hard-left political alliance gaining ground.

22 July 2005

BERLIN - Germany's election campaign has begun in earnest with a new poll released Friday showing support for front-runner opposition chancellor candidate Angela Merkel's political bloc continuing to drop off with a new hard-left political alliance gaining ground.

Drawn up by market research group FG Wahlen for German television ZDF, the poll showed support for both Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian-based associate party Christian Social Union (CSU) having lost one percentage point over the last fortnight. This brought support for the opposition down to 43 per cent.

The release of the latest opinion poll comes in the wake of Thursday's announcement by German President Horst Koehler that he had agreed to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's move to bring forward the country's national election by one year to September 18.

After months of a phoney election campaign following Schroeder's announcement that he wanted an early poll, Koehler on Thursday effectively fired the starting gun for the launch of the official campaign for the September ballot.

Schroeder decided to press for an early election after his ruling Social Democrats (SDP) were badly battered in 11 consecutive state elections, culminating in a devastating defeat in May in the party's traditional heartland of North Rhine-Westphalia.

However, two parliamentary deputies from Schroeder's ruling coalition, Jelena Hoffmann from the SPD and Werner Schulz from the Greens, have foreshadowed plans to challenge the call for an early election in Germany's constitutional court.

But leading members of all parties indicated Friday that they expect the court to confirm Koehler's decision.

Merkel's conservative opposition's fall in the ZDF poll was in line with a series of other surveys pointing to a decline in support for CDU-CSU after the release earlier this month of the bloc's election manifesto, which included a hike in VAT.

But while Schroeder's SDP also dropped one percentage point to 26 per cent, the ZDF poll showed the new left alliance, compromising the post-communist Party of Democratic Socialism and the Election Alternative for Labour and Social Justice, gaining two percentage points to come in at 10 per cent.

Despite continuing to trail badly in the polls, Labour and Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement said the SPD was aiming to reach more than 35 per cent in the mid-September election.

Carried out earlier this week, Friday's poll showed the SPD's likely post-election coalition partner, the Greens picking up one percentage point to reach 10 per cent of support from those surveyed.

The Free Democrats (FDP), Merkel's likely coalition partner, was unchanged at seven per cent.

The ZDF polls shows that together with the FDP, a Merkel-led government currently would have 50 per cent support, while the SPD and Greens would have only 36 per cent.

But the poll also confirmed the trend that has emerged in other voter surveys and which points to a strong showing for the new left alliance with the new group having garnered 34 per cent of support in east Germany.

This means that the alliance is currently the most popular political force in the country's former communist half.

With the election campaign already dominated by the debate about economic reform, the increase in support for the left alliance, which has been largely at the expense of the SDP, underscores the deep divisions that have surfaced in Germany about reforming Europe's biggest economy.

In particular, support for the left alliance, which wants to protect workers' rights and to safeguard Germany's social state, comes in the wake of Schroeder's tough round of welfare and labour market reforms.

Both Merkel and Schroeder plan to push forward economic reforms if they win the election.

But the risk for Merkel is that growing support for the left alliance could mean that even if she wins the September election, CDU-CSU and the FDP might not have won enough support to forge a parliamentary majority, which could force her to form a grand coalition with the SDP.

DPA

Subject: German news

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