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Europe

Schulz's SPD struggles to convince in German election campaign

media SPD supporters at the Berlin rally RFI/Jan van der Made

German Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz laid into Chancellor Angela Merkel at his last big rally in Berlin two days before the country’s general election. But his SPD is trailing in the polls and the “grand coalition” with Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) may not survive Sunday’s vote.

Schulz, who will become chancellor if the Social Democrats win, launched a blistering attack on Merkel at the rally in Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt, calling for more equality and also attacking the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party.

A sea of red balloons and large posters cannot hide the fact that the square is far from full. Large screens focus on Schulz, who delivers his message of equality, but his voice is soft and he only occasionally talks with enough fire to win applause.

But his fans are impressed.

“He is talking very directly about where we need to improve,” says Anja Pescup, who is in her 50s and works in product management in a large company. “In the field of pensions, care of the elderly, child care, for justice, for fairness.

Germany is a rich country, she says, “and this wealth and well-being must be distributed among the many people who are not that well off”.

Pescup is angry that many people don’t give the SPD credit for imposing some of these ideals in the outgoing coalition, citing a rise in the minimum wage to 8.84 euros per hour from 8.50 euros and the June’s legalization of same-sex.

SPD struggling to convince

SPD campaigners are not finding it easy to get the message across. “People are very comfortable with Angela Merkel,” says Philip, a volunteer who has been on the campaign trail for six weeks and does not wish to give his full name.

“They resist change and change is what we stand for. So that’s a hard message.”

The AfD seems likely to cross the five percent threshold that will allow it to become the first far-right party to enter the Bundestag since World War II.

“Having those Nazis in the parliament, I can hardly support that,” says Pescup, although she admits there were warning signs. “If you try to understand what happens in the provinces, you can see that people are very, very frustrated.

“They don’t feel part of society any more and they seek for a sign of something which they know and something they can believe in, and then they listen to lies and they think it is nice.”

But “it’s gone a little bit too far with that”, she comments.

Can coalition survive?

But the big question is whether the “grand coalition” between CDU and SPD be revived after the election.

There is a lot of speculation that the liberal FDP, which has sat in previous coalitions with the CDU and its Bavarian allies, the CSU, will return to parliament after they being wiped out in 2013.

If that is the case, they could become the CDU’s partner once again.

And there is talk of a possible “Jamaica coalition”, bringing together the CDU, the FDP and the Greens, whose combined colours are the same as those of the Jamaican flag.

“It’s up to the winner to decide,” says Philip. “But I’m not sure of the Greens will opt for a coalition with the FDP/CDU.“

One thing is for sure – there will be plenty of political wheeling and dealing on Monday morning, when it is clear who is calling the shots in Germany’s new political line-up.

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