Floods, books and children: highlights of the German election campaign
Germans go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new parliament and choose a new German leader after 16 years with Angela Merkel at its head. Merkel has decided not to run for a fifth term and the election campaign has largely focused on the three candidates who hope to succeed her.
Here’s a look at the unexpected highs and lows of Germany’s latest campaign:
Climate change has risen to the top of Germany’s political agenda over the summer, in the wake of deadly floods that hit West Germany in July that experts say will become more likely if global warming continues.
The issue was hotly debated during televised election debates, as the three main candidates put forward different plans to tackle climate change.
While Merkel’s centre-right union bloc and its main candidate, Armin Laschet, want to focus on technological solutions, the centre-left Social Democrats under current Finance Minister Olaf Scholz have emphasized the need to protect jobs from being lost as Europe’s largest economy tilts toward a future Carbon neutral.
The Greens, who have made the issue their primary campaign theme, pledged to do everything in their power to put Germany on the right track to achieve the goals of the Paris climate agreement. They want to achieve this by increasing carbon prices, requiring solar panels in all new public buildings and ending coal use eight years earlier than planned.
… and what is not
Foreign policy, including the future of the European Union, received relatively little attention during the campaign. Although Berlin’s allies have long called on Germany to show more leadership on the international stage, the three candidates have shied away from offering any radical foreign policy visions.
Immigration has also fallen back on voters’ priority list compared to the 2017 elections, when the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party came third. The co-leader of the party recently said the party is focused on state elections in the east, where polls suggest it could also win multiple constituencies on Sunday.
Don’t laugh anymore
One image that will remain in the minds of many voters is the image of Laschet laughing in the background during a somber visit by the German president to the flood zone. Laschet, the governor of the hard-hit state of North Rhine-Westphalia, later expressed his regret for the accident.
The 60-year-old has also been criticized for an ad campaign that shows him talking quietly with a member of the Querdenken movement that opposes coronavirus restrictions. Competitors said the ad was in poor taste after a gas station employee was killed by a man who refused to wear a mask.
Both Green Party candidate Annalina Barbock and Union Bloc Lachette blushed at revelations that they were economics in their books.
The blunders gave an extra boost to Schultz, whose scandalous and pointless image helped propel his party to the front of the polls a month before the election.
Arguably the three candidates faced the toughest questions from two 10-year-olds they interviewed in a play tent full of toys.
As Burbock struggled to explain her green tax policies to children, Lachet raised eyebrows by defending his cigarette smoking habit with the words: “I don’t inhale.”
Schulz was forced to explain to his young interviewers why the German government had not done more to prevent migrants, including children, from drowning in the Mediterranean on their way to Europe.
Mock elections by 250,000 students under the age of 18 in schools across Germany showed a slim victory for the Greens, ahead of the Social Democrats and Merkel’s Union bloc. But in practice, German elections are heavily skewed towards the older generations. First-time voters will make up less than 5% of the 60.4 million voters on Sunday.
The colors of the ruling coalition
What is the relationship of Jamaica and Kenya to the German elections?
Since each party in Germany is associated with a specific colour, the flags of the two countries are widely used as an acronym to denote two of the dizzying array of alliance options that come into effect after the elections.
The other includes the “Germany” alliance, the “traffic light” alliance and one known as “red, red and green” because both the SPD and the Left claim slightly different shades of red.
Aside from the national elections, voters in Berlin and the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern will also choose the new regional councils on Sunday. The Social Democrats are polling aggressively there and some experts say the party could win three times as much.
a little problem …
Opinion polls show that smaller parties get more support than they did during several previous German elections, which reduces the votes of larger rivals and makes it difficult to form a governing coalition. One small party that could enter the German parliament again for the first time since 1949 is the Southern Schleswig Electors’ Assembly, or SSW. The election authorities, as a party representing Germany’s Danish minority, say it does not need to meet the usual 5% voting threshold.
…and a big one
Regardless of who wins Sunday’s election, experts say the next German parliament is likely to be bigger than ever. Election rules mean the current 709-seat Bundestag could grow to 800 or more, making it more difficult than it already is.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the German elections at https://apnews.com/hub/germany-election