Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday urged Germans to give her would-be successor Armin Laschet their vote to shape Germany’s future, in a last-ditch push to shore up his beleaguered campaign 24 hours before Germans vote.
Laschet, 60, has been trailing his Social Democrat challenger Olaf Scholz in the race for the chancellery, although final polls put the gap between them within the margin of error, making the vote one of the most unpredictable in recent years.
Merkel had planned to keep a low profile in the election battle as she prepares to bow out of politics after 16 years in power. But she has found herself dragged into the frantic campaign schedule of the unpopular chairman of her party, Laschet.
In the last week of the campaign, Merkel took Laschet to her constituency by the Baltic coast and on Friday headlined the closing rally gathering the conservatives’ bigwigs in Munich.
Merkel tugged at the heartstrings of Germany’s predominantly older electorate on Friday, calling on them to keep her conservatives in power for the sake of stability — a trademark of Germany.
A day before the vote, she had travelled to Laschet’s hometown and constituency Aachen, a spa city near Germany’s western border with Belgium and the Netherlands, where he was born and still lives.
“It is about your future, the future of your children and the future of your parents,” she said at her last rally before the polls, urging strong mobilisation for her conservative alliance.
– Climate high on agenda –
She underlined that climate protection would be a key challenge of the next government, but that this would not be achieved “simply through rules and regulations.
“For that we need new technological developments, new procedures, researchers, interested people who think about how that can be done, and people who participate,” she said.
Laschet is a “bridge-builder who will get people on board” in shaping Germany to meet those challenges, she said.
Hundreds of thousands of people had descended on the streets on Friday urging change and greater climate protection, with a leading activist calling Sunday’s election the vote “of a century”.
On Saturday, Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg told a rally near Germany’s Garzweiler mine, one of the biggest in Europe, that the elections “are not going to resolve the crisis, whatever the outcome”.
“You’re going to have to keep mobilising, organising and taking to the streets,” she said.
With the clock ticking down to the election, Scholz was also staying close to home at the other end of the country to chase down last votes.
Taking questions from voters in his constituency of Potsdam — a city on the outskirts of Berlin famous for its palaces that once housed Prussian kings, — Scholz said he was fighting for “a major change in this country, a new government” led by him.
He also gave a glimpse of the future government he hopes to lead, saying that “perhaps it may be enough to, for instance, form a government between the SPD and the Greens”.
Scholz, currently finance minister in Merkel’s coalition government, has avoided making mistakes on the campaign trail, and largely won backing as he sold himself as the “continuity candidate” after Merkel in place of Laschet.
Described as capable but boring, Scholz has consistently beaten Laschet by wide margins when it comes to popularity.
– ‘Could backfire’ –
As election day loomed, Laschet’s conservatives were closing the gap, with one poll even putting them just one percentage point behind the SPD’s 26 percent.
Laschet went into the race for the chancellery badly bruised by a tough battle for the conservatives’ chancellor candidate nomination.
Nevertheless, his party enjoyed a substantial lead ahead of the SPD heading into the summer.
But Laschet was seen chuckling behind President Frank-Walter Steinmeier as he paid tribute to victims of deadly floods in July, an image that would drastically turn the mood against him and his party.
As polls showed the lead widening for the SPD, the conservatives turned to their greatest asset — the still widely popular Merkel.
Yet roping in the chancellor is not without risks, said political analyst Oskar Niedermayer of Berlin’s Free University.
“Merkel is still the most well-liked politician. But the joint appearances can become a problem for Laschet because they are then immediately being compared to each other,” he said.
“And it could therefore backfire because people could then think that Merkel is more suitable than Laschet.”