| 25 February 2024, Sunday |

Germany’s Laschet under pressure as final election debate nears

On Sunday, the conservative candidate vying to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel remained under fire ahead of a televised election discussion, which will be one of his final opportunities to catch up to Social-Democrat challenger Olaf Scholz.

The Social Democrats (SPD) have 26 percent support in the latest INSA survey for Bild am Sonntag, unchanged from a week earlier, while Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, have gained half a percentage point to 21 percent.

In surveys gauging the support of individual chancellor candidates, the margin has grown even larger, highlighting the tough battle conservative Armin Laschet faces against Scholz ahead of next Sunday’s federal election.

Since being captured on tape smiling on a visit to a flood-stricken village in the summer, Laschet has been under criticism.

Scholz, who is also the finance minister, promised to maintain pensions and retirement ages unchanged in an interview with Bild am Sonntag, stressing that those would be red lines in any coalition discussions.

“Everyone can count on a government led by me to accomplish just that,” Scholz added.

Scholz and Laschet will clash on Sunday at 8.15 p.m. (1815 GMT) in what is the last of three primetime television debates that will also include Annalena Baerbock of the Greens, who are third in polls at 15%.

Current polls, which show a highly fragmented picture as voters increasingly flock to smaller parties, leave room for several coalition scenarios, giving the liberal Free Democrats a potential king-maker role in upcoming coalition talks.

FDP party chief Christian Lindner on Sunday rebuffed demands by the CDU to rule out a so-called traffic light coalition with the SPD and the Greens. “We will not take orders from this (CDU),” he said at a party event.

Merkel’s chief of staff had earlier called on all parties to agree quickly on who should succeed her after the election and avoid the kind of protracted coalition talks that followed the last vote four years ago.

The likelihood of long coalition talks after the vote means Merkel will not be leaving office any time soon. She remains chancellor until a majority of Bundestag lawmakers elect a successor, who is then sworn in.

“My wish is for a swift government formation,” Helge Braun told Reuters, adding that even though the current government would continue to govern during looming coalition talks there were certain limitations over the scope of leadership.

“So I warn against losing time due to a very long government formation. One can certainly ask for the parties to swiftly express their preferences after the election over what their favoured coalitions are – so that one does not endlessly lose time in discussions.”

There are no formal restrictions on Merkel’s powers until a successor is chosen, but she is a consensus seeker and previous chancellors have not taken radical decisions during this time.

Following Germany’s last general election in 2017, it took a record six months before the new government was sworn in.

  • Reuters