Battle for votes as German election race gets tighter

GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel and her rivals scrambled for last-minute votes yesterday before an election that will decide the coalition that must pull Europe’s top economy out of its worst post-war crisis.

Barring a huge election day surprise tomorrow, the popular Merkel — Forbes magazine’s world’s most powerful woman for the past four years — was expected to win a second term at the helm of the world’s number-two exporter.

But the country was spooked by the third German-language video in a week by a militant believed to have links to al-Qaida, days after he threatened attacks in Germany over the country’s military mission in Afghanistan.

After a broadly uninspiring campaign, the vote is shaping up to be a cliffhanger to see if the conservative Merkel can ditch her coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), to govern instead with the pro-business Free Democrats.

Latest polls show Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) on roughly 35% with the Free Democrats on 13% — enough, under Germany’s complex electoral arithmetic, to win a razor-thin majority in the country’s parliament.

But the race is tightening, as the SPD has climbed steadily in recent weeks to 26%, following a better-than-expected showing by its candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a live TV debate.

And with roughly one-quarter of the 62-million-strong electorate reportedly still undecided and opinion polls historically imprecise, the parties were scrapping for every ballot.

Steinmeier hoped to galvanise supporters at a rally at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate yesterday while Merkel, in Pittsburgh for the G20 meeting, holds her final rally today.

“The CDU is getting more and more nervous,” said Steinmeier in Trier.

“This election is going to be decided in the final metres,” CDU general secretary Ronald Pofalla said.

“The number of undecided voters is high ... we are going to use these last important hours and mobilise all our strength.”

But with Germany facing its worst economic slump since the war, a survey by business daily Handelsblatt showed unemployment and the recession were voters’ top concerns.

Economic policy is one of the few areas the two main parties have clearly defined differences, with the CDU calling for tax cuts across the board and the SPD wanting to raise the tax rate for high-income earners.

Tension is mounting and the exit poll results, expected at 4pm tomorrow, could well prompt hours of nail-biting as possible coalitions emerge.


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