Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives are scrambling to beat back a major challenge from the country’s Social Democrats, whose candidate for chancellor, Olaf Scholz, appears to enjoy a clear lead ahead of Sunday’s national vote.
The latest polls show the center-left Mr. Scholz, who serves as finance minister under Ms. Merkel in the current broad coalition government, as the front-runner, even as Ms. Merkel’s party claims he has a poor record dealing with scandals as Germany’s finance minister, and that his Social Democrats will be forced to ally with leftist descendants of East Germany‘s communist past to hold power in Berlin.
The German news outlet DW has reported that Mr. Scholz, who is presently also serving as deputy chancellor, is considered a member of the Social Democrat party’s “conservative wing,” but that he‘s “hard to pin down with political categories such as left-wing or right-wing.”
A profile by DW published this month said, as a deputy leader of the party’s “youth wing” decades ago, Mr. Scholz held views that “were socially radical and highly critical of capitalism.” But that was back in the 1970s, and a long career of subsequent political service by Mr. Scholz has given him a reputation today as a pragmatic, center-left moderate who could succeed the steady, low-key Ms. Merkel. He even argues his win would represent “continuity” with Ms. Merkel’s long rule despite the fact he heads the main opposition party.
Mr. Scholz‘s record is now under a spotlight for German voters and the international media, as Armin Laschet, the candidate of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) struggles to gain ground after what is widely seen as a lackluster and error-prone campaign.
Ms. Merkel, who is slated to step down after 16 years as chancellor, has spent recent days on the campaign trail stumping for Mr. Laschet despite her aversion to electioneering.
The most recent Kantar poll in Germany found that the Social Democrats’ lead had slipped slightly as of Thursday, but that Mr. Scholz’s party is still three percentage points ahead of the CDU and would likely have a much easier path to assembling a coalition government, with the leftist Greens and the free-market-oriented Free Democrats as likely partners.
Mr. Laschet and others in the CDU are now warning about the prospect of a major leftist — even “extremist” — shift if Mr. Scholz and the Social Democrats take power.
Mr. Scholz has remained aloof on whether the Social Democrats’ coalition would include Germany’s far-left Linke party in order to control a majority in the German parliament after Sunday.
Mr. Laschet has sought to energize German conservatives by pouncing on the issue. “You have to have a clear position on the extremists,” he told Mr. Scholz during a televised debate earlier this month. “I don’t understand why it’s so hard for you to say ‘I won’t enter a coalition with this party’.”
The Linke — “Left” — Party was formed in 2007 from a merger of other parties, including the Party of Democratic Socialism, which was a descendant of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, the Marxist-Leninist outfit that controlled East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Linke’s campaign has focused on a platform of promoting social welfare programs and calling for an end to all German military missions abroad, a halt to weapons exports and an end to the NATO alliance.
Away from the ideological battles around Sunday’s election, the CDU has seized on reports that Mr. Scholz as finance minister mishandled or ignored a range of financial scandals. Political friction over the allegations, which Mr. Scholz claims are baseless political smears, became heated in early September when German prosecutors searched offices of the Finance Ministry in Berlin.