UPDATE: Merkel’s final push for party and stability in knife-edge polls ahead of German election

UPDATE: Merkel's final push for party and stability in knife-edge polls ahead of German election
German Chancellor Angela Merkel waves after addressing the last rally of the conservative Christian Democratic Union CDU and its Bavarian sister-party Christian Social Union CSU in Munich, southern Germany, on September 24th, 2021, ahead of the German federal election on September 26th. Thomas KIENZLE / AFP
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday urged Germans to give her would-be successor Armin Laschet the vote to shape Germany's future, in a last-ditch push to shore up his beleaguered campaign 24 hours before Germans vote.

Laschet, 60, has been trailing his Social Democrat challenger Olaf Scholz in the race for the chancellery, although final polls put the gap between them within the margin of error, making the vote one of the most unpredictable in recent years.

The five most recent polls put the SPD slightly ahead of the CDU. (Source: Wahlrecht.de)

Merkel had planned to keep a low profile in the election battle as she prepares to bow out of politics after 16 years in power. But she has found herself dragged into the frantic campaign schedule of the unpopular chairman of her party, Laschet.

In the last week of the campaign, Merkel took Laschet to her constituency by the Baltic coast and, on Friday, headlined the closing rally gathering the conservatives’ bigwigs in Munich.

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Merkel tugged at the heartstrings of Germany’s predominantly older electorate on Friday, calling them to keep her conservatives in power for the sake of stability — a trademark of Germany.

Leader of Germany’s CDU party and candidate for Chancellor Armin Laschet (C) acknowledges the applause next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and leader of Germany’s CSU party and Bavaria’s State Premier Markus Soeder (L) during the last CDU/CSU rally on September 24th, 2021, ahead Sunday’s federal election. (Photo by THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP)

“To keep Germany stable, Armin Laschet must become chancellor, and the CDU and CSU must be the strongest force,” she said.

READ ALSO: Merkel urges vote for ‘stable’ Germany as election looms

A day before the vote, she travelled to Laschet’s hometown and constituency Aachen, a spa city near Germany’s western border with Belgium and the Netherlands, where he was born and still lives.

“It is about your future, the future of your children and the future of your parents,” she said at her last rally before the polls, urging strong mobilisation for her conservative alliance.

She underlined that climate protection would be a key challenge of the next government, but said this would not be achieved “simply through rules and regulations”.

“For that we need new technological developments, new procedures, researchers, interested people who think about how that can be done, and people who participate,” she said.

Laschet is a “bridge-builder who will get people on board” in shaping Germany to meet those challenges, she said.

Hundreds of thousands of people had descended on the streets on Friday urging change and greater climate protection, with a leading activist calling Sunday’s election the vote “of a century”.

READ ALSO: Greta Thunberg joins climate strikes before ‘vote of the century’

READ ALSO: German election fever: Merkel’s parrots and a talking fox

German Finance Minister, Vice-Chancellor and the Social Democratic SPD Party’s candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses supporters at his final rally a few days ahead of the German federal election, in Cologne, western Germany, on September 24th, 2021. (Photo by Uta WAGNER / AFP)

‘Could backfire’
With the clock ticking down to the election, Scholz was also staying close to home at the other end of the country to chase down last votes.

Taking questions from voters in his constituency of Potsdam — a city on the outskirts of Berlin famous for its palaces that once housed Prussian kings — Scholz said he was fighting for “a major change in this country, a new government” led by him.

He also gave a glimpse of the future government he hopes to lead, saying that “perhaps it may be enough to, for instance, form a government between the SPD and the Greens”.

Scholz, currently finance minister from Merkel’s junior coalition partners SPD, has avoided making mistakes on the campaign trail, and largely won backing as he sold himself as the “continuity candidate” after Merkel in place of Laschet.

Also on the campaign trail on Friday, Scholz demanded a “fresh start for Germany” and “a change of government” after 16 years under Merkel.

Described as capable but boring, Scholz has consistently beaten Laschet by wide margins when it comes to popularity.

As election day loomed, Laschet’s conservatives were closing the gap, with one poll even putting them just one percentage point behind the SPD’s 26 percent.

Laschet had gone into the race for the chancellery badly bruised by a tough battle for the conservatives’ chancellor candidate nomination.

Nevertheless, his party had enjoyed a substantial lead ahead of the SPD heading into the summer.

But Laschet was seen chuckling behind President Frank-Walter Steinmeier as he paid tribute to victims of deadly floods in July, an image that would drastically turn the mood against him and his party.

With the conservatives running scared as polls showed the race widening for the SPD, they have turned to their greatest asset — the still widely popular Merkel.

Yet roping in the chancellor is not without risks, said political analyst Oskar Niedermayer of Berlin’s Free University.

“Merkel is still the most well-liked politician. But the joint appearances can become a problem for Laschet because they are then immediately being compared to each other,” he said.

“And it could therefore backfire because people could then think that Merkel is more suitable than Laschet.”


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