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On the campaign trail German election diary: the SPD’s surge and the Greens’ singalong

A weekly dispatch from the race for the Bundestag

THERE IS NO doubt about the biggest election story of the week: the Social Democrats’ surge in the polls. On August 24th Forsa, a pollster, put the centre-left SPD on 23%, a percentage point ahead of its senior coalition partner, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The lead may be slight, but it’s the first time in 15 years that the SPD has had its nose in front—and German papers are calling this a “political earthquake”. Two days later Civey, another pollster, placed the CDU/CSU and the SPD level, on 22%—but the conservatives were estimated to be losing ground while the Social Democrats are gaining.

The SPD’s climb has shortened the odds against Olaf Scholz, the party’s candidate, succeeding Angela Merkel in the chancellery. (Our election model gives the Social Democrats a one-in-three chance of becoming the largest party in the Bundestag.) Mr Scholz, who used to run the city-state of Hamburg, may not appeal to the left of his own party, and his flinty style doesn’t exactly set the pulse racing, but as federal finance minister he has done little to frighten conservative voters. That is further bad news for the CDU’s Armin Laschet, whose lacklustre performance does as much to explain the centre-right’s droop as any charm of Mr Scholz’s. On Sunday Mr Laschet has a chance to redeem himself in the first of several television debates among the main candidates. He can’t afford to fluff it.

As in many other Western countries, the debacle in Afghanistan—from where the last German evacuation flight left on August 26th—has been making grim headlines. It is seeping into the election campaign too. Norbert Röttgen, head of the Bundestag’s foreign-affairs committee and a former contender for the CDU leadership, called it “a human drama, a political catastrophe, a moral defeat of the West”. CDU politicians are calling for the resignation of Heiko Mass, the foreign minister, a Social Democrat who in June rejected suggestions that the Taliban were poised to seize control of Afghanistan. The Süddeutsche Zeitung calls Mr Maas “the face of the failure”. Mr Maas refuses to quit. “We all misread the situation,” he said.

Because of the pandemic, more German voters than ever will vote by mail, says Deutsche Post, the national postal service. But the far-right AfD wants to stop voters casting their ballots that way: it’s making its case with a social-media campaign and flyers. The party’s leaders admire Donald Trump, who also railed against postal votes in last year’s American presidential election (and after it). Like Mr Trump, its leaders claim, with no credible evidence, that the election might be manipulated. It is not transparent and it is not safe, nor free, nor secret, they say. In reality, they fret they will do poorly if many voters cast their ballot by mail. But maybe the AfD (which has no chance of governing) should worry less than the CDU/CSU (which wants to carry on doing so). The more votes are cast early by post, the worse for parties now struggling in the polls.

Any prize for the week’s most cringeworthy moment has to go to the Greens. The party released a toe-curling campaign commercial based on “Kein Schöner Land in dieser Zeit” (“There is no country more beautiful than ours at this time”), a popular campfire song. In the one-minute video old ladies, footballers, a farmer, a bus driver, an immigrant, a priest and a group of middle-aged retirees barbecuing in the back garden sing along (mostly out of tune), interspersed with a picture of bees feasting on a flower. The spot was ridiculed by many—including some of the Greens’ own candidates. “Vote for the Greens: for consistent climate protection and so we stop singing,” tweeted Jakob Basel, who is standing for the Bundestag in Rendsburg-Eckernförde, in Schleswig-Holstein. The commercial is aimed at older voters, but Jan Böhmermann, a comedian, may be closer to the truth. “Maybe the Greens actually don’t WANT to get elected!?” he tweeted. Given the party’s slide from first place in early May to third now, he could be onto something.

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SAKHRI Mohamed

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