German election campaign livens up with frontrunner Merkel under pressure

Martin Schulz (left) failed to achieve the debate victory he needed to revive the SPD’s challenge to German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains a strong favourite to secure re-election when her fellow countrymen go to the polls on 24th September.  In 2015 Merkel’s decision to admit well over a million asylum seekers seemed to be not only a catastrophe for Germans but a political disaster for Merkel herself. Her conservative CDU-CSU [the CDU operates in most of Germany but has a longstanding partnership with the Catholic CSU in Bavaria] was losing votes to a new anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) throughout late 2015 and 2016.

Then at the start of this year the SPD (German equivalent of the Labour Party) started to take a lead in opinion polls after selecting former European Parliament president Martin Schulz as its candidate for Chancellor.

However once the campaign got under way many voters, especially in the more prosperous western areas of Germany, began to turn back to Merkel partly out of fear that the SPD would form a coalition government including the neo-Marxist Left Party (Die Linke) as well as the Greens.  The Left Party includes former leaders of the Communist Party that ruled the former East Germany until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

A further complication is that former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has taken a position on the board of the Russian state oil company Rosneft, raising suspicions among journalists hostile to Putin.

The TV debate on September 3rd between Merkel and Schulz was seen as the socialist opposition’s last chance to revive their campaign.

However Schulz failed to make significant progress in the debate and seems headed for certain defeat.

Frauke Petry, co-leader of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany, decided earlier this year not to be AfD’s candidate for Chancellor

Meanwhile AfD has suffered internal strains, with co-leader Frauke Petry deciding not to be the party’s candidate for Chancellor.

In recent days Merkel has tried to take her campaign to eastern areas that remain hostile to her immigration policy.  The Financial Times this weekend describes a disastrous Merkel campaign event in Bitterfeld, an industrial town in Lower Saxony where AfD remains strong.  Some predict that while AfD’s nationwide vote will be under 10%, it could poll closer to 20% in the East (outside the capital Berlin which remains a leftist stronghold).

AfD has not resolved internal debates over how to deal with present-day Germany’s tyrannical laws that dictate not only what can be said on racial matters, but how scientists, historians, lawyers and ordinary citizens can discuss issues of 20th century history.

Germany’s main nationalist party the NPD will be fielding candidates in most of the country both at constituency and list level. (The German election system is partly based on Westminster style constituencies but with a ‘top-up’ element based on party lists, to create a Parliament that represents the percentage votes achieved by each party, with a 5% threshold required to obtain any MPs.)

Ursula Haverbeck in discussion with her lawyer Wolfram Nahrath during court proceedings in November 2016

Recently the 88-year-old Ursula Haverbeck was given a two-year sentence for ‘Holocaust denial’ after questioning the increasingly discredited official version of history that dictates 6 million Jews were murdered, supposedly mainly in homicidal gas chambers during the Second World War.

German prosecutors and government representatives refuse to answer Frau Haverbeck’s questions as to how, where and on whose orders such supposed mass killings took place: instead of answering such questions they bring further criminal charges. However contrary to some reports Frau Haverbeck is not presently in a prison cell, as despite court verdicts and sentences there are still appeal processes going on.

Meanwhile the 81-year-old lawyer Horst Mahler remains imprisoned near Berlin on similar charges, having been handed back to German custody in June by the Hungarian government. Mahler had been released from a 12-year prison sentence on health grounds after becoming critically ill and having a leg amputated, but prosecutors ordered his return to prison earlier this year.

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