BERLIN – Angela Merkel has said she wanted to stay out of the election campaign to replace her as German Chancellor. But with her party polls at record lows, Ms Merkel used a speech to the German parliament on Tuesday to beg the Germans to keep the Christian Democrats in power.
Since late July, the conservative Christian Democrats and their Bavaria-only Christian Social Union have fallen steadily in the polls, while their candidate to replace Ms Merkel, Armin Laschet, has struggled to get a series of blunders that plummeted his own popularity.
The situation has become so alarming that Ms Merkel has dropped the pretense of bystander, and in recent weeks she has used her voice and platform to try to support Mr Laschet and distance himself from his main rival, Olaf Scholz.
Mr Scholz, Germany’s finance minister and Mrs Merkel’s vice-chancellor, has seen his popularity rise, along with that of his centre-left Social Democratic Party – often positioning himself as the real successor to the chancellor under whom he reigns ever since. 2017.
In an effort to regain support, Laschet warned that a government led by Scholz could divert the country from its current centrist course, especially if he included the Left Party in a governing coalition. The Left Party has repeatedly rejected Germany’s participation in NATO missions and questioned whether the alliance should exist.
Ms Merkel, who is not seeking a new term in office, echoed that warning on Tuesday in what was likely her last speech to Parliament as chancellor, urging voters to put their support behind Laschet when they vote on September 26. go to the polls. to elect a new government. It is the first time since the founding of modern Germany in 1949 that the incumbent chancellor has voluntarily relinquished power.
“In a few days, our citizens will have to make a choice: either between a government with the Social Democrats and the Greens, which accepts support from the left party, or at least does not exclude it,” said Mrs Merkel, “or a German government under of the Christian Democrats and the Christian Social Union, with Armin Laschet as chancellor.”
Despite Ms Merkel’s intentions to stay out of the campaign, Tuesday’s comments weren’t the first time she acted to help her party’s flimsy fortunes. On August 20, as Mr Laschet tried to revive his election campaign heading into the final weeks, Mrs Merkel, among other things, praised his Christianity as his guiding moral compass. Still, his fortunes failed to turn around.
Last week, Mr Laschet presented a team of expert advisers who he hoped would bolster his numbers, but that seems to have had little effect.
Opinion polls released this week show Mr Laschet’s party is struggling to maintain 20 percent support – a previously unimaginable stance for a party that has ruled Germany for the last seven decades after nearly two years.
Ms Merkel also went on the offensive against Mr Scholz, who in a campaign speech last week described the 50 million Germans vaccinated against Covid-19 as “guinea pigs” who had proven the safety of the vaccines.
“We were the guinea pigs for those who waited,” said Mr. Scholz at a radio station in North Rhine-Westphalia. “As one of the 50 million, I can say, it went well! Please join us!”
In her speech on Tuesday, Ms Merkel shot back: “Of course none of us who have been vaccinated are in any way a guinea pig,” she said, adding that all vaccines had undergone the necessary testing to gain approval.
Mr Scholz defended his comment as a light-hearted attempt to convince more people to get vaccinated against Covid-19. “If some people don’t want to laugh, but get angry, maybe that has something to do with their not very funny ratings in the polls,” he said.
Long the traditional rivals of the centre-right conservatives, the Social Democrats spent 12 of Mrs Merkel’s nearly 16 years in government as the junior coalition partner in her government, influencing many of the policies adopted, such as a national minimum wage and billions in Covid relief.
Mr Scholz, who was initially rejected as a viable candidate for chancellor, has surprised Conservatives with his strong showing. The Christian Democrats entered the race thinking their biggest challenge would be the Green Party and its 40-year-old candidate, Annalena Baerbock, who has campaigned for a pledge to usher in an era of change.
Mr Scholz, 63, has understood that after four periods of prosperity and relative stability under Ms Merkel, Germans still value a sense of security. He has focused his campaign on job pledges and work to strengthen social stability by fighting child poverty and keeping house prices in check.
“A new beginning is needed,” Mr Scholz told parliament on Tuesday. “I hope, and am sure, that it will work.”
Christopher F. Schuetze reporting contributed.