Merkel urges Germans to back her party’s choice of successor

Angela Merkel has used what is likely to be her last speech in the German parliament to make her most impassioned intervention in the electoral race so far, urging the public to vote for her party’s beleaguered candidate over his surging centre-left rival.

The chancellor, who will stand down after federal elections on 26 September, warned of the possibility of the Social Democratic party (SPD) and the Greens governing the country in a coalition with the far-left Die Linke.

“What is at stake are real economic and tax-related decisions that will determine the future of our country, the number of jobs,” Merkel said, adding that Armin Laschet of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was the only candidate capable of forming “a moderate government that will lead our country into the future”.

Laschet’s star has sunk dramatically in recent weeks, with one poll published on Tuesday forecasting the CDU to drop below 20% for the first time in Germany’s postwar history. The SPD, fronted in this campaign by the vice-chancellor and finance minister, Olaf Scholz, is leading the polls on about 25%.

Merkel also used her speech to criticise Scholz for using the term “guinea pigs” to describe people vaccinated against Covid-19. At a campaign rally on Saturday, the SPD candidate had urged unvaccinated people to get a jab against the virus, saying “guinea pigs” like himself had shown the vaccines were safe.

Merkel said the analogy was “lopsided”: “None of us are guinea pigs, neither Olaf Scholz nor I,” she added in the Bundestag on Tuesday.

Scholz responded that people had to be won over to take the vaccine in a way that was “casual, relaxed, also with jokes that you can laugh about”.

“If some people don’t want to get the joke and kick up a fuss instead, it may have more to do with the fact that the latest opinion polls don’t give them much to laugh about,” Scholz added.

Germany has fully vaccinated 61.4% of its population against Covid, lagging behind other large European nations such as Spain, France and Britain.

Scholz later thanked the chancellor for her work during the pandemic and used the occasion to pitch for his campaign, promising to prioritise the fight against child poverty and push for affordable living and stable pensions.

Merkel, whose governing style has usually involved her rising above the fray of party political squabbles, drew jeers from other parliamentarians for her partisan intervention.

“My goodness, what a fuss!” she retorted. “I’ve been a member of the German Bundestag for more than 30 years and where should we discuss such issues if not here? It is the heart of our democracy.”

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