Spiegel's Daily Take Schröder's Last Stand

Does Schröder have a chance of winning the elections after all? According to him he does, despite still lagging in opinion polls. Germany's chancellor now just has to convince the rest of the world. Plus, why the death of an extreme right-wing candidate could mean a nail-biting finish to the elections. And Hamburg's Mayor, Ole von Beust, talks to SPIEGEL ONLINE about being a gay conservative.

This Green Party poster is getting carried away -- as is Gerhard Schröder. Does he really stand a chance of winning or is he just putting a brave face on an inevitable defeat?

This Green Party poster is getting carried away -- as is Gerhard Schröder. Does he really stand a chance of winning or is he just putting a brave face on an inevitable defeat?

It's hard not to admire Gerhard Schröder's chutzpah. There aren't many government leaders who could get away with losing a vote of confidence in parliament, calling an early election on (constitutionally speaking) decidedly dodgy grounds and being written off by most of the country's commentators as an out-going chancellor -- and still claim to stand a chance of winning the election in nine days time. Is Schröder just confirming his reputation as the king of the last-minute comeback? Or, in a fit of crazed hubris, has he lost his grip on reality? Either way, Schröder's remarkable assertion this week that he might just claw his way back into the chancellery on September 18 is certainly livening up what until now has been a predictable campaign.

On Wednesday, bursting with self-belief, Schröder announced if his party, the Social Democratic SPD, gained just four more percentage points and the opposition Christian Democrats lost four percentage points, then victory would be his. Although not everyone is convinced by this astonishing claim -- some opposition politicians have accused Schröder of getting his figures wrong -- the chancellor is clearly hoping that he can infect voters with his bullishly optimistic attitude.

With this aim in mind Schröder honored Friday's left-leaning Süddeutsche Zeitung with an interview. The far from bashful front-page headline reads "There Is a Majority -- For Me" and in the interview the chancellor is almost convincing in his assertion that the country is on the right track with its reforms and that he might win. Almost.

Süddeutsche Zeitung Despite everything that you have done in the last few years, nothing concrete has actually changed: unemployment figures have risen and there is practically no economic growth.

Schröder That is not true. International observers recognize that without our reforms Germany would be in a much worse position. Our problem is that many of us here in Germany are much more negative in their assessment than commentators from abroad. Major economic publications, such as The Economist, The Wall Street Journal or The Financial Times, recognize that we have made a lot of progress with our program of structural reforms. It is only at home that we talk as if Germany was still the sick man of Europe. This picture just doesn't fit the reality any more.

Süddeutsche Zeitung You always quote just the first part of The Economist article. In the second half the writer says that it is now time for the opposition Christian Democrats to take over government.

Schröder That is an assessment which has been formed without proper knowledge of German society. I am obviously going to have a different opinion.

Süddeutsche Zeitung But why should people vote for you again when, after seven years in power, you still haven't achieved your most important goal -- the aim, which you announced in 1998, of reducing unemployment significantly?

Schröder That can be explained by the fact that no government has so far been faced with the amount of problems which we have had to deal with: the bursting of the internet bubble five years ago, the effects of September 11, oil prices which have risen from 15 dollars to 70 dollars a barrel. These are massive external shocks which explain why we have not been able to achieve our aim. But we are on the right course. The first signs of success are also being seen on the job market: 1500 new jobs have been created since April.

Süddeutsche Zeitung It the situation is so good and everything going as well as you say, where are your voters? You have exactly nine days left to convince people.

Schröder That's all the amount of time we have and it will have to suffice. Perhaps you have already noticed that the mood for a change of government, which everyone has been talking about, doesn't actually exist anymore. I am not denying that the opposition is in the lead right now, but things change. When people are asked in opinion polls who they would rather have as chancellor, then there is a clear majority -- for me. And support for the Social Democratic Party is also catching up. There is a lot of movement here and anything is possible.

Dying to Win the Election

Due to the death of NPD candidate Kerstin Lorenz all the ballot papers must be thrown out and reprinted with the name of the new candidate. The delay could mean that the results of the elections on September 18 could take weeks to confirm.

Due to the death of NPD candidate Kerstin Lorenz all the ballot papers must be thrown out and reprinted with the name of the new candidate. The delay could mean that the results of the elections on September 18 could take weeks to confirm.

There's nothing like a sudden death to spice up a dull election campaign. But when 43-year-old NPD extreme-right wing candidate Kerstin Lorenz keeled over with a stroke while giving a speech in front of Dresden's town hall, it wasn't immediately apparent the massive ramifications her passing away would have.

Sympathy in the press for the unfortunate Mrs Lorenz has been muted, and liberal journalists appear to be uncomfortable with extolling too warmly a member of an extreme right-wing party. No one has expressed outright satisfaction that there is now one less radical right-winger in the country; but for many commentators the most significant outcome of the candidate's death is that the Germany may now have to steel itself for delayed results after the general elections on September 18.

Despite the fact that Lorenz barely had a chance of actually being elected into government in the first place, the election process in Dresden has now to begin all over again. This means finding a new NPD candidate, reprinting the ballot papers, and writing to all those who have already voted by post. Whether the cheesy candidate photos currently adorning German streets also have to swapped round has not yet been made clear. The upshot of all this is a late election in Dresden. Experts estimate that a vote before October 2 is unlikely.

With the gap between the incumbent chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, and his challenger, Angela Merkel, narrowing rapidly, what happens in Dresden could well have an effect on the results right across the country. If the results on September 18 are close, then there are worries that everything could hang on Dresden. It could be two to three weeks before a final result is known.

To make matters worse (or, if you are a journalist looking for a story, better) it is no longer clear who is likely to win. In the last elections in 2002 it was neck-and-neck between the CDU center-right wing party and the SPD socialists. This time round the CDU candidate is thought to have a narrow, but no means surefire, lead. Contrary to all expectations, a boring election campaign might just result in a nail-biting finale after all.

Ole von Beust: Germany's Gay Mayor of Hamburg

For Ole von Beust there is no conflict being gay and politically conservative.

For Ole von Beust there is no conflict being gay and politically conservative.

Being a gay politician of the center-right CDU in Germany is a bit like being a gay Republican in the USA. By focusing on traditional "family values" are conservative parties not by their very nature homophobic? While to some, being a gay conservative is a contradiction in terms, Ole von Beust, the CDU mayor of Hamburg, has no problem with sticking both by his political beliefs and his sexuality. Although the latter was not managed quite with the panache with which Berlin's gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit, jumped out of the closet: In 2003 von Beust was publicly outed after a fellow politican and former coalition-partner made seedy allegations about von Beust's supposedly torrid sex-life.

In the end however the plan backfired and von Beust's popularity in Hamburg, hardly the most hetereosexual city on the planet, rocketed. Von Beust talked to SPIEGEL ONLINE about his party's attitude towards homosexuality.

von Beust I think that in the CDU we have a problem with how we portray ourselves to younger people. One example is the issue of gay cohabitation. A lot of people in the party took offense when the Minister President of Baden-Württemberg, Günther Oettinger wrote a speech for the gay pride march. Young people read that and ask themselves "what planet are you living on?" If I did something like that in Hamburg, no one would make any kind of fuss.

SPIEGEL ONLINE You are one of two gay mayors in Germany, both of which are also heads of regional government. Why aren't you more aggressive about your sexuality?

von Beust Because I believe that sexual orientation is a private matter. People don't expect me to bring my private life into my office.

SPIEGEL ONLINE Your Social Democrat SPD colleague, Klaus Wowereit, who is mayor of Berlin, uses his image as part of his political ideology. The most recent example of this is the opening speech he gave at the leather fetish street party in Berlin. What do you think of this?

von Beust Everyone has their own style.

SPIEGEL ONLINE Would it have been possible for you to become a gay CDU mayor without the changes in society brought about by the SPD-Green governing coalition?

von Beust The CDU has of course changed a great deal along with society. That has always been the case and shows that it is a modern party which appeals to the people. I am in favor of a lot of what was achieved by the generation of Social Democrats and Green party members who were young in the late 60s. But I reject much of what came in its wake -- such as discrediting terms such as elite, achievement or sense of responsibility. Fortunately most young people no longer follow this ideological pattern.


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