BERLIN: Angela Merkel’s election rival Peer Steinbrueck rallied supporters at a Berlin landmark yesterday to swing behind his bid for a more socially fair Germany by toppling the German chancellor.
“It’s in your hands alone,” the 66-year-old challenger in Sunday’s elections told an enthusiastic crowd, gathered under an open-air tent in the famous Alexanderplatz, which once marked East Berlin’s centre.
“Freedom, justice and solidarity,” he said, stressing the values his Social Democratic Party (SPD) had represented for 150 years and would continue to fight for, as he critically picked off Merkel’s policies.
Under Berlin’s iconic Television Tower, Steinbrueck, donning a red tie in his party’s signature colour, repeatedly urged the several thousand people seated and standing at red benches, to turn out and vote for change.
“He is completely different from Merkel and that’s good,” Daniel Boese, 39, a lecturer from Berlin, who has been an SPD member for more than 20 years, said. “Merkel talks a lot and does nothing.”
After a gaffe-prone campaign, the self-styled straight-talking Steinbrueck has struggled to chip away at Merkel’s popularity, with the SPD trailing the conservatives by a 10-point margin in an Insa poll yesterday.
Brigitte Ruehl, 71, from Berlin said she was still undecided about who to vote for but was concerned in particular about former East Germans’ pensions being lower than their Western counterparts.
“After 23 years of unity, it is time that they were aligned,” she complained, adding she had voted for Merkel’s conservatives and the Greens under Germany’s double vote system in 2009.
Asked if she is disappointed in Merkel, she shook her head but added the chancellor was “a bit cautious. We must be more forceful in general.”
Steinbrueck, a former minister, has campaigned on a platform of greater social justice, calling for a national minimum wage while Merkel favours more flexible pay agreements, targeting a yawning wealth gap and Germany’s large low-wage sector.
But a surly middle-finger front-page photo of him last week followed other missteps, such as grumbling the chancellor’s salary is too low, suggesting that Merkel owes her success to being a woman and dubbing two Italian election winners “clowns”.
Merkel’s success in retaining power with her current centre-right coalition hinges on the precarious fortunes of her pro-business allies, the Free Democrats.
But the electoral maths may force her into a left-right “grand coalition” with her rivals instead.
Steinbrueck has ruled himself out of such a tie-up with Merkel despite having been her finance minister under a 2005-2009 grand coalition, after which the SPD went on to score its worst ever result, at 23 percent.
But Oskar Niedermayer, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, said in the 2009 vote, a third of the electorate had said they only made up their minds whom to vote for in the last few days. “I reckon on it also being the case now,” he said.