German candidates go head-to-head in last debate with 3 days to go

By Robin Powell, dpa

With three days to go until Germany’s elections, the candidates took part in a final televised debate on Thursday focusing on differences in foreign and security policy.

After three previous debates that featured only the three top candidates for chancellor – from the CDU/CSU, the SPD and the Greens – all parties currently represented in the Bundestag took part in the final round.

The Social Democrats’ (SPD) candidate, Olaf Scholz, pledged to increase defence spending for the German army on Thursday and added that the most important foreign policy goal would be a strong, sovereign Europe.

The topic of China also came up, with the pro-business Free Democrats’ (FDP) Christian Lindner saying that “we have to represent our interests and our values equally,” while the Green Party’s Annalena Baerbock called for “a common European China policy.”

With a Thursday poll showing a dramatic drop in the number of undecided voters, the pressure was on for outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives as they attempt to catch up with the SPD.

In a YouGov survey, 74 per cent said they had made a final decision on who they will vote for, 15 per cent said they would make a final choice later, 9 per cent did not specify and 1 per cent said they didn’t know.

Earlier surveys indicated that a third or even as many as 40 per cent of voters were undecided – a point emphasized this week by candidates including the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock.

Although her party has slumped to a distant third, according to the polls, Baerbock is still hoping for a record result for the Greens.

As for which party voters would cast their ballot for, the numbers have changed little in the past week.

In a recent ZDF Politbarometer poll, the the CDU/CSU conservative bloc slightly narrowed the gap with the SPD, coming to 23 per cent, though the SPD retained its lead, remaining unchanged at 25 per cent.

The Greens came in third at 16.5 per cent, while the FDP were at 11, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) received 10, and the far-left Die Linke party hit 6.

Although election polls are only a snapshot of opinion at the time of the survey and are not a forecast of election outcomes, the order of the top parties has not changed since late August.

A tight result is expected when Germans go to the polls on Sunday, with Merkel’s conservatives at risk of being kicked out of power after nearly 16 years.

The head of the SPD, Norbert Walter-Borjans, indicated as much on Thursday when he said he expected both the first and second-placed parties to explore coalition options.

There have been times in the past when “the SPD was not the strongest force in parliament, but put together a coalition which had a majority,” he said.

The government under then-chancellor Helmut Schmidt in 1976-80 is the most-cited example: it comprised Schmidt’s SPD – which came second in the elections – and the Free Democrats.

When it comes to three-way coalitions, Germans have to look further back to the times of the post-war political giant, Konrad Adenauer. From 1949, he led three consecutive coalitions of the conservative CDU/CSU bloc, the FDP and the Deutsche Partei (German Party).

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