The German campaign for the September 22 election has been a largely staid affair till now.
Pre-election activity in the most powerful European nation has been so muted that a new word — Nichtwahlkampf, which means non-campaign — has come up in the media to describe the scenario. Chancellor Angela Merkel, considered one of the most powerful women in the world, is fighting for a third term on the vehicle of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Merkel, who is a physicist, probably wants to tamp down the vibrations of her campaign. She has been trying to keep things very simple in the campaign for the polls billed to be the most important this year for Europe, which is hobbling to come out of a crippling recession. Germany has been among the few countries almost entirely unaffected by the economic crisis. However, it has played a centre role in dealing with it. Merkel has been painted a villain, especially by the Greeks who suffered a body blow to their society and economy in the wake of the debt crisis. Merkel refused to make more concessions for Greece, thus inviting the ire of Greeks in general.
Merkel largely carries into the upcoming elections an image of steadfastness to her cause and to that of her country. She has been portrayed in the international media as a leader who stood her ground despite facing winds from all directions in a crisis-ravaged Europe. The German economy weathered the storm set off by the debt crisis and rose to acquire a leadership role in the continent. The chancellor, born and raised in former East Germany, exudes an image of a leader determined to get what she wants.
Merkel has tried not to tell Germans a lot about what she would do in her third term. She has tried to underscore her personal appeal over detailing policy prescriptions. The campaign has been quite a non-event this time. Rival parties have come so close in terms of ideology that it is hard to distinguish between what they think is good for Germany and its citizens. A rejection of nuclear power, the lack of skilled professionals in a decreasing population and the integration of migrants are hot button issues in the industrialised nation. However, the campaign has not seen an intense debate over these subjects. The lack of excitement in the run-up to the polls has been breached by Merkel’s visit to a Nazi concentration camp near Munich. The first Chancellor to visit the Dachau memorial site faced criticism for using a campaign trip to go to the historical place.
Days before this, she had to cancel a campaign rally in a town after an eccentric man took the deputy mayor and some others hostage. The lack of excitement in the German campaign will worry those who see it as voter apathy. But it can as well be seen as the consolidation of a political culture in which the maturity of voters and the highly developed state of a polity precludes boisterousness•